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Fees: Figuring What To Charge

For Your Voice-Overs / Part 2


By James Alburger


There’s much to consider when setting fees for your voice-over talent. In Part 1 of this two-part series, we examined fees for union scale, non-union with agent, and factors to consider if you’re freelancing without an agent.


Here, we examine pricing for specific types of work.


Different people handle this in different ways. There are two basic categories of voice work:


  • short form : primarily radio and television commercials (projects under one minute or so), and
  • long form : usually anything longer than one minute, whether it’s a character part for an animated film, or a narration for a corporate training piece.


Most voice talent set their fee for a short form project based on whether it will air on radio-only, TV-only, or a combined air play.


Radio is usually the lowest rate, TV a bit higher, and combined air play a bit higher still. Some freelancers will charge one fee regardless of the media.


For example: the talent fee for a commercial airing on radio-only might be $100. If the spot is airing on TV-only, the fee might be $125 (TV tends to reach a larger overall audience). If the performance will be used for both radio and TV, the fee might be $150 (the basic radio fee plus 50%).


This formula is just an example, but you get the idea.


Another aspect of air play is how long the commercial will be running, and if it has the potential for being used again in six months or the following year. Freelance voice-over work is almost always paid on a "buyout" basis, which means you only get paid once and there are no residuals (as with the re-use of a spot with union talent).


Determine a reasonable fee for your work, and whether you should charge a higher fee if your performance will be used for a long period of time.



Fees for long form projects can be handled in several ways:


Some talent prefer to book by the hour, usually with a one-hour minimum and a certain fee per hour (or half-hour) after the first hour. This is the way the union, AFTRA, sets fees.


Other talent book long form projects on a per-page basis, with a set minimum page for, say, five pages, followed by a per-page rate for each additional page.




It's not practical to give specific dollar amounts for fees here, simply because every market is different, and there is a tremendous range in talent fees for non-union, freelance voice talent.


For example, in San Diego, the average talent fee for a non-union voice actor is approximately $100 for a commercial. However, the actual range for voice-over talent fees will vary from a low of around $40 to well above union scale.


So, how do you find out what the numbers are in your area?


If you have representation, your agent should be able to give insights, so you’ll know the fee being sought on your behalf. If you don't have representation, you have some work to do.


Start by talking to the studio where you had your demo produced. (You did go to a studio didn't you?) Most recording studios in your area should have an  idea of local voice-over talent fees (assuming they do voice-over sessions).


You can also put on your detective hat and call local talent agents to learn local rates. But don't be surprised if some agents won't talk to you about rates, unless you appear to be interested in hiring someone. Agents are in the business of booking their talent, not in helping you figure how to price yourself so that you can compete with their talent.



Regardless of how talent sets fees, some producers may base pay on a totally different set of standards.


So, the best thing to do when talking to a talent buyer about a project is to avoid any mention of your fees at all. Get as much information as you can about the project. Learn what they want you to do, how much time might be involved, and their project budget.


You may discover they're willing to pay far more than you would have asked! On the other hand, you may discover their expectations are way out of line for what they will pay. At that point, it’s up to you whether to take the job for the experience - or not.


It is a good idea to have a rate sheet handy for your own reference. But I don't recommend making it available to prospective clients without a good reason.


Why? As freelance voice talent, you may find it necessary, or desirable, to take a job for a fee that might be either much lower or much higher than the rates you have set.


And I don't recommend doing work for free. Regardless of the project, there should always be some sort of compensation. Keep in mind that your performance has value, and the perceived value of you as a voice artist by those who might hire you will be partially established by your fee.


If a producer wants you to give a quote, you can always type up a specific proposal for that project - but only after you have all information.


As tempting as it may be, volunteering your rates at the beginning of a conversation when the producer asks, "How much would you charge to . . ." might result in NOT getting the job.


Only quote your fee when you have enough information to make a decision as to the value of your time and energy.


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, including workshops and seminars. They are also co-producers of the annual VOICE industry conference.

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Comments (2)
Eric May
5/5/2010 at 3:27 AM
Some interesting things I didn't know before. I have a great voice, do many characters, used to produce commercials for 3 radio station. I need an agent and more advice. I have the tallent - just need to figure out who to send it directly too. Thanks, take care, Eric May
brady thomas
3/8/2010 at 9:37 AM
Great info for a beginner. I am 40 and just looking into trying voice work.It seems to be a fairly tough industry to get into and make a living at!
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