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Are You Recording Voice-Overs Pro Bono
Like A Business - Or Working For Free?
April 11, 2018

By Tom Dheere
Voice Actor and Coach

A few weeks ago I got an email from an aspiring voice talent who accepted an unpaid gig to build her resume.

She said she was given little information about the project beforehand so could do not any research.

When she arrived at the recording session, she was told the project would be packaged and sold to libraries. She did the gig anyway and later asked me if she was taken advantage of.

This is what I told her:
You didn't ask about usage upfront. If you didn't like the terms they laid out when you got to the studio you should have talked to them about it right then and there. If they couldn't satisfy you, then you walk. If you want, you could reach out to them and try to negotiate a usage fee after the fact, but it may be too late. They didn't take advantage of you. You hosed yourself because you approached the project like an artist and not like a business. This is exactly why so many people try to get into voice-overs, acting, modeling, etc. and fail.
I know that was tough love, but man, stuff like that just ticks me off at both the voice talent and the client.

Was the client twirling their mustache at the talent? Maybe, maybe not, but voice talents should know better.  


There is nothing wrong with doing pro bono work. Actually, I encourage it! I and many of my fellow veteran voice talents do it from time to time.

However, if you are going to do pro bono work, you need to approach it like a business.

Understand the difference between:
  • doing pro bono work, and
  • working for free.
The term "pro bono" (and no, it does not necessarily mean you love U2 or Sonny & Cher) is derived from Latin pro bono publico, meaning 'for the public good.' The motivation behind pro bono work is to benefit society as opposed to making money.

How do I apply that?

I only do pro bono work for:
  • Student Contests. Many times I have voiced projects for existing clients who enter a video into a contest of some kind.
  • Charitable Institutions that can provide a Schedule 501(c)(3) form proving they are a nonprofit. Even then, many charitable institutions have a budget for advertising and marketing and could pay you anyway, so do your due diligence.

Working for free is doing a voice-over for a FOR-PROFIT company or venture that should pay you, but doesn't.
  • When a for-profit company tries to get you to work for free, don't do it.
  • If they say they don't have the budget and promise they will pay you for the next gig, don't do it.
  • If they say they want to "try you out," don't do it.
When should you work for free? I would only consider it if you're doing it for a friend or it's for a new project or service you believe in, i.e. voicing a Kickstsarter or GoFundMe video.

Even then, find out how and where your voice-over will be used.

Whether it's pro bono work or you choose to work for free, send the client a zeroed-out invoice so they understand the value of the service you provided.

Do your homework, ask good questions, and don't get taken advantage of!
Over two decades, Tom Dheere has narrated thousands of projects for clients in over a dozen countries and voiced more than 40 audiobooks. He is also a voice over business consultant, coach at Edge Studio, was the marketing consultant for the Voice Over Virtual online conference, and is also writer/producer of the sci-fi action comic book Agent 1.22.

Agent 1.22


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Comments (3)
Damon Zeiger
10/17/2021 at 1:00 PM
Thanks for the article! This is great and very useful to me. I am brand new in this business and it's great I found this site. I like you the writer, you seem like a guy who knows the business and is down to earth. I shall take it to heart and use it for my career. Cheers mate.
Howard Ellison
4/11/2018 at 5:36 PM
Tom, your experience is a lot more extensive than mine, but I agree with all you say there.

One thing I have come to realise: the gigs that really take extra time, have multiple pickups and after-thought re-writes, are typically those we may have agreed at bargain rate to stay alongside a 'cash-strapped' indie.

Of course we want to help, particularly students and innovators, and of course some people are not employing or directing voice every day... but, well, we need to develop our instincts. Extended jobs keep us away from other work.

As for a zeroed invoice... hmmm, never thought about that!
Johnny George
4/11/2018 at 1:48 PM
Spot-ON Tom. Excellent insight. Those scoundrels are lurking everywhere. They know who they are. By doing your due diligence you will avoid this trap. Many are not trying to screw you - this is where your educational approach comes in. Understanding usage and including length of usage run time will save, everyone concerned, a lot of time.

Pro-bono work is also beneficial with local Kiwanis Clubs, Toastmasters, Chamber of Commerce and other avenues that you can volunteer for to get recognition for your philanthropical goodness & voice.

Do follow Tom's advice to send them an invoice with your full charge on it so they understand the value of your work. Then, of course, discount it on another line to show it zero's out.

If you don't watch out for your own back, no one else will.
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