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Getting Annoyed At Abusive Voice Seekers
... But What's Really To Blame For It?

October 3, 2012

By David Radtke

Voice Actor

I'm getting annoyed. Very, very annoyed.

I'm getting annoyed at how some voice seekers have become almost condescending toward voice actors. The tone with which they write their job descriptions and the budgets that they post are downright insulting.

Yes, I understand that many voice seekers are ignorant of the voice over world, its rates, and what voice talent have to go through to get to a level of professionalism.

But gimme a break!


A recent voice over job I saw posted on the Internet was looking for a professional, high-quality voice over to narrate a 5-minute script. Their budget? A measly $30. That's it.

Their reasoning? Because the voice over would only be used as a mock-up they weren't looking to spend a lot of money.

Now, while mock-up fees are not as high as the fees for regular broadcast jobs, $30 for a 5-minute narration is just too low!


This voice seeker is looking for someone to record articles that range from 300 words (about 3 minutes of narration) to 1,500 words (roughly 15 minutes of narration). The fee? $3.60 per article!

You read that correctly: three dollars and sixty cents per article!

The voice seeker also wants each article to be recorded and sent within 15 hours after being assigned, and reserves the right to ask for revisions - for $3.60 per article!


Have you ever seen this?
"Anyone who knows what they are doing can get this job done quickly."
First of all, it's insulting and condescending. And why would someone write that anyway?

What's the motivation? To justify their extremely low budget by saying you can get it done fast (provided you know what you're doing)?

I don't know about you, but to me, someone who is very good at their job (because of their training or experience or both) deserves to get paid well.

Should I tell this to my doctor?
"Because you know what you are doing, you should be able to get my operation done quickly, professionally, and at a ridiculously low price."


"Our budget is low, but if you do a good job then there may be future work for you as well."
Some of my friends are freelancers in different fields (website design, graphic design, app programming, etc.) and they see exactly the same thing. And they all say that more often than not, there are no future jobs waiting in the wings for them.

That "possible future work" line is just a way to get freelancers to accept low pay for quality work. Don't buy into it!

I'd love to walk into a restaurant and say,
"I'll only pay you a small portion of the price of my lunch. But if I like how you cook, then I'll possibly come back every day to eat lunch here."
I'm sure the waitress would kindly turn me away and seat the next paying customer in line.


So, why does this continue to happen to voice actors?

The answer is simple: Because voice talent actually take this kind of abuse and bid on (or audition for) these jobs!

Yes, yes, I know. If you are just breaking into voice acting, then getting your first few jobs is hellish. But accepting this kind of behavior from voice seekers and getting paid such laughingly silly fees is just going to damage you and the voice over field as a whole. 

Please remember this: You teach people how to treat you by how you respond to them.

If you let them treat you badly, then they'll just keep on doing it.

Am I off base? Or am I right? I'm curious to know what you think.
David Radtke is a voice actor, on-screen actor, musician, writer, blogger, graphic designer, website developer, father of two and ... 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 (19)
Kim Ikonen
10/9/2012 at 3:58 AM
Oh yeah, David - ROFL, I feel the same way. Thanks for the article. It was both funny (because of recognition) and sad (because of its veracity).

Some celebrity Italian radio DJ once contacted me asking me to read a line to promote his radio program (I work mainly in Swedish), with the promise of "it will be on Italian radio"... including additional comments such as "I love Sweden," "let's be friends on Facebook"... (!!!). He assumed I would do anything to work with him. Other times, some clients give me atrocious translations expecting me to re-write it for free.

I agree with Dave Wallace, it's best to reply politely. Telling them what I can offer, what is included and what I charge. Sometimes they will actually get back to me, but even if they don't - at least they've gotten some better info.

I'm sure there will always be someone willing to read 20 mins for 20 USD but if they are any good - they will be raising their rates (only hard to raise them to a decent level so they kinda shot themselves in the leg), and if the client asking for the VO was serious to begin with, they would be looking elsewhere as well. I'd rather stick to clients who know what they want, and continue in pursuit of delivering the best job I can.
Chris Caldwell
10/6/2012 at 5:04 PM
Paul wrote: People who willingly accept these ridiculously low rates are enablers. I've been fighting (and writing) against this lowball mentality for years...

.. Then why do some people post their rates on their website? I've seen people charge 250 for 5 minutes of narration, editing, etc. That's lower than what minimum scale would pay! It actually perpetuates the problem. Let the client contact you and find out your low ball rate.

Roxanne wrote: I mean, for $4 a script it's worth it for the producer to go to Radio Shack and invest in a $5 desktop microphone and just record the darn thing themselves on the computer's built-in recording software.

...Funny. This is exactly why the voiceover industry is so crowded with "talent" now. Anybody with a laptop and a mic is a voiceover artist, and this is why the problem with low rates now exists.
Paul St. Peter
10/6/2012 at 4:03 PM
Spot on, David! As a voice actor from the worlds of looping, dubbing, games, industrials, and anime in general, I can attest to all of the abuses (and more) you mention. In my 27 years of working as a voice actor I have gotten the "next job" promise many a time, and let's not forget when the seeker says, "why the high pay? You don't even break a sweat!" We make this look easy, but I promise you it is not easy for the beginner. We should be paid well because there are damned few of us who can do the voice job well!
Drew Hadwal
10/5/2012 at 11:16 AM
David, you're right on target! Sometimes crap like that keeps me up at night. This is most evident when I see capable people who are more than happy to nourish the bottom feeders. I've called a few out over the past year, only to be told to mind MY BUSINESS. I mind mine quite well; but how they behave IS my business. Their predatory pricing lowers client expectations regarding our overall value, and we suffer as a result.
Lynn Benson
10/5/2012 at 12:02 AM
Right and right again. I want a particular car. I'm on a Chevy budget and that is what I drive. The Lotus will have to wait.

It is hard when you know people have no idea what they are asking for. And then we bid the job. That feeds the beast.

Cage the beast. Don't let it out.

Dave Wallace
10/4/2012 at 10:29 PM
No, David, you are not off-base at all. You are absolutely right! I can out-do you on lowest-rated job I've ever seen, though. I got contacted not too long ago by someone who asked me to send in 20 minutes of completed audio for $20. So, a dollar a minute...which doesn't even take into account the time needed to edit the files, so it's actually less than a dollar a minute.

I couldn't take this offer because I'm a union actor (and one of the reasons I became a union actor was because I saw how quickly non-union prices were plummeting), but quite frankly, even in my non-union days I would never have taken this. It's just insulting.

On the other hand, I also try to keep in mind--like you noted--that many clients aren't familiar with the day-to-day challenges of running a VO biz. So, as a service to both myself and my industry, whenever I receive a lowball offer like this, I *do* reply to them. I reply with an email containing a polite decline, a link to my website and demos, the rate I would charge, the estimated time it would take me to complete the project, and the benefits of using my services. Just to spread awareness of what it is that we do.

One of the biggest mistakes I made early on was--when replying to a potential client--just giving my rate. BIG mistake. Being a VO talent is partially a sales job, and I quickly started booking more work when I started saying...

"This is my rate because...reason x, reason y, reason z, and the benefits of using my services are benefit x, benefit y, benefit z."

Instead of...

"This is my rate."

All this to say, get your clients to think about your challenges, and they're more likely to pay the rate you want them to!
10/4/2012 at 10:20 PM
David, you hit the ball! I am a French Canadian voice artist and think the most stunning request that I see - at least twice a month - from voice seekers, usually with fixed budget (not considerably high), is something like: ″We have a text that is not ready yet in French, but we would like to hear a sample of your voice. Please translate AND read a portion of the script provided below. A custom-made audition is mandatory to be considered.″ ?!%

I have to say that I did translate a few times in order to audition, but it made me feel like I was still in high school...

Clearly, some clients don't have any clue of how to work with a voice artist in a foreign language. Worse, some of them assume that we will provide translation + narration at the same price, like a package deal. :-(
Paul Strikwerda
10/4/2012 at 9:38 PM
People who willingly accept these ridiculously low rates are enablers. I've been fighting (and writing) against this lowball mentality for years, only to be presented with the "it's a free market" argument or "it's only beer money."

We can't expect clients to respect our craft as long as we don't respect it ourselves by demanding a reasonable fee.

Any idiot can compete on price, but only pros compete on quality and added value.
10/4/2012 at 9:23 PM
Ouch. Hopefully more v.o. talents will stay away from these sites altogether, or at least completely avoid these types of 'job opportunities'. I mean, for $4 a script it's worth it for the producer to go to Radio Shack and invest in a $5 desktop microphone and just record the darn thing themselves on the computer's built-in recording software. Why hire anyone at all? Obviously they think the entire field of voice over acting is completely unnecessary and overrated.

The only way to weed out these people is to ignore them completely.
Lisa Erhard
10/4/2012 at 9:03 PM
There are always people looking to get as much as they can and pay as little as possible. The pay to play websites may in some way be encouraging this level of "abuse" to continue. With the very competitive arena such as subscription-based audition sites, it can be challenging for voice talent auditioning to know exactly what to bid on a project, so as not to be outbid by another.

The worst customer who fit this abusive description I've come across paid the lowest for my services. So I think that the psychology behind paying very little can accompany poor treatment of the talent providing the service, because the service is not valued enough in the first place. And if they can get it for less, some will opt for that avenue.

I do think you need to stick to your guns and know how low you are willing to go before it's too low, as well as summon up the courage to walk away from a customer and the job if they treat you badly.
David Van Sise
10/4/2012 at 8:59 PM
I agree wholeheartedly with you, David!!!! I also hate it when they feel that just because their budget is low for their project that I need to be understanding and accept less as well! In the famous words of Jerry Seinfeld: "Who are these people!?!"
10/4/2012 at 8:47 PM
Hi David,

At least by reading your article I realize that these situations are not exclusive to us, Spanish Voice Over Talents.

I believe this not only happens because there are "colleagues" who accept this insulting conditions, but also because there are voice banks that o do not filter these abusive situations and they don't care at all what these abusive "potential clients" publish/demand. It's really, really sad.

Today, no matter how much money you invest in equipment, in courses, in events... you have to deal with pseudo-voice-talents who believe that just for having a decent mike, an external sound card and some knowledge of how to record themselves they have the right to compete with you, who owns a solid career... in my case for over 20 years.

But this is the way it goes. What are the options? Not to pay your annual membership on the popular website where they promote jobs for 50 bucks as if they were awesome? Or keep on paying them just in case a good job arises?

The only solution is to keep on training yourself, being the best of the best always, and not look at those who are stealing your opportunities. At least you'll find that the best potential clients can be found in the most unsuspected places... and using the most unexpected personal/marketing techniques...

All the best, always!

10/4/2012 at 8:44 PM
My fav was always #4 and was ALWAYS total BS. In 25 plus years of voicing I never got the "more" for doing the low offer gig. After a few years of hearing it, I'd politely decline. Another fav is being told it'll be everywhere and great exposure for you. Hmmm.. I prefer payment rather than exposure. Stay strong voiceover pals!

Dottie Janson
10/4/2012 at 6:49 PM
A very accurate article, David. I really can't add anything to the other comments already made.

However, I can add a reading for the blind contact. In Cincinnati, CABVI, the Cincinnati Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired, is a wonderful resource for this city. They always need people to volunteer to read parts of the paper, magazines or other materials requested by their clients. I've been reading the Comics one day a week for a few years now and like the contribution I am making to help others. And, as Dawn mentioned, it was one of the first items to go on my resume.
Earl Thomas
10/4/2012 at 3:12 PM
Right on, David. Fairness and respect are needed, and voice seekers need to walk in our shoes awhile.
Thanks for pointing it out.
10/4/2012 at 8:12 AM
Great insight, David. It happens across the 'performing' board. I'm still amazed when directors will tell me..."You're just reading words, how hard can it be?!" Respect is key. And you're very correct in saying, 'You teach people how to treat you by how you respond to them.'

Philip Banks
10/4/2012 at 3:46 AM
"Voice Seekers" sounds like three headed beasts from the 4th moon of Lipgloss 9 deep within the Stained Quadrant. They lurk in the space waste and then pounce on unsuspecting Voiceoverists. First they steal their wills and then ...THEIR VOICES.

The best minds, the wisest souls say that this forbidden zone is forbidden with good reason, yet every hour of every day, Voiceoverists travel there in search of riches never to be seen again.

Head towards the light where live Casting Directors, Agents, Producers, Directors and people who need Voiceoverists ... But beware, the light exposes the amateur and the inept.
10/4/2012 at 1:25 AM
You are so ABSOLUTELY right on! One of my favorite quotations...on my wall and from 1800's merchant John Ruskin who said, "I have no quarrel with those who sell for less, for they know best what their product is worth."

Yeah, they really talked that way in the 1800's...too much Shakespeare, I suspect. And, my dad had a saying (he was an engineering consultant): "If you charge $50 an hour they view you as 'competent,' if you charge $150 an hour, they all arrive on time for the meeting and hang on your every word!"

YOU HAVE IT EXACTLY RIGHT..."If you turn cheap tricks, the bordello will go bankrupt." (I don't think anyone actually said that...but maybe.)
Dawn Harvey
10/3/2012 at 11:28 PM
You are totally on base, David. The only people who should be even thinking about taking these jobs are total newbies with absolutely no credits at all. And, after they think about it for 10 seconds, they shouldn't do them either.

If no one with any talent, training or skills does this work, the result will be decent rates for professional services - and then those who want to hire someone talking into their Macbook at the kitchen table for $4 can have at 'em!

So, how do newbies get experience then? Volunteer. Simple to do. Some suggestions: Look for a reading for the blind/visually impaired organization in your area. In Canada, it's Accessible Media Inc. In the US it's (somebody help me out here?). If there's nothing like that in your area, or even if there is, AIRS-LA has volunteer reading opportunities you can do remotely.

What's your favourite charity? Most of those require VO for commercials, in-house training, messaging systems, etc. Volunteer to help them out.

Yup. You're going to be missing out on the opportunity to earn $4.00. However, the damage that is being done to VO rates and reputations is worth way more to all of us than that $4.00 could possibly be worth to you. And them are my two-cents worth!
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