How Professional Voice Actors Break Down their Prices

Hands in mud Kim Handysides Voiceover

Credit: Karen Maes

What’s the first question I’m asked along with how fast can you get this back to me? “What are the prices?” I, like most voiceover artists will answer with a clear as mud, “It depends.” So, let’s demystify this.  Professional voice over actors base their rates on three major parameters: use, population and time. Geography also sometimes enters the picture. But  other factors also weigh in heavily in on how we cost out the licensing of our work and determining voice over fees. Let’s break it down.

Hourly Rate + 30 years

A buyer trying to haggle with my friend Eileen Raucher-Sutton a brilliant watercolor painter in the art world, asked her, “Come one, how long did it take to paint that?” She glibly answered, “Oh, about two weeks. And 30 years.” Voice over, like other art is rarely bought by the actual time it takes us to do it. Like athletes, we work long and hard for decades to be able to tickle the ears of a target audience. To be able to make written words flow, sound conversational, upbeat, or however else you might want them delivered. To be able to roll out two or three different characters in one job or imitate Jennifer Lawrence or George Clooney. To rattle off 10K eLearning words before lunch,  a directed commercial session and 25 prompts for an award ceremony before quittin’ time, because it never rains but pours and Mama’s bills are piling up.

 

athlete running up stairs Kim Handysides Voice over

Credit: Clique Images

80/20 rule in VoiceOver

Most professional voice actors only get to narrate twenty percent of the time. The rest is spent chasing down the next gig. Like pro athletes, there is a lot of time between games. There’s auditioning, filling out NDA’s, drawing up specs and (shudder) paperwork like invoicing. There’s collecting, oh, and marketing. There’s the constant care and upkeep of craft, updates to software and sound booths so we can improve and hopefully be in demand. Most who hear how much we make per job for the relatively short amount of time put into it don’t take these factors into consideration. And of course, unless the job is a Union gig (in which the rates are non-negotiable) the voice actor is not getting any contributions to their insurance or retirement with that job. Flat in, flat out.

 

Voice Acting is My Day Job

A professional voice actor, doesn’t moonlight on the side. Or work anywhere else. This is their main source of income. Day after day. Decade upon decade. We will be there if you need pickups in a week, a year or ten years from now.

 

Voiceover Rates Per Use

Voice acting has tons of applications. Well, maybe a hundred anyway. Apps, toys, and events, games, eLearning and commercials, VR, audiobooks and inflight announcements, corporate explainers, web shows and medical animations. The list goes on and on. Curiously, some of the most difficult and technical work (gaming, audiobooks and dubbing) is paid less. Broadcast has always landed the biggest dollar, although its market is sliding away to a growth in digital ads.

Crowd in city Kim Handysides Voice Over

Credit: Meric Dagli

Voiceover Fees Per Population

Simply put, the more eyes and ears exposed to your project, the higher the voice over prices. In the Unions, this parameter is cut into population units. A city of 3 million might have 7 units. A city of one million would have 2 or 3. Each unit brings a certain amount of money. A college campus program, awards ceremony, or local play are on one end of the spectrum, a national commercial or TV narration are on the other.

Voiceover Prices Per Unit of Time

How long will the voice over be used? Typically an ad runs 13 weeks. That’s the Union model definition of one cycle. A year is four cycles. If you need to license the voice over in perpetuity (aka forever), you need to purchase a buy-out. In Union world, buy-outs are 1-5 years and then residuals kick in. That’s another consideration. I collect a few bucks a year for a cartoon series I did in the ‘90’s. Another time consideration is the length of the session in which you do the work.  A commercial session may be 2 hours whereas narration on a television series may last 8 hours. VO’s who work from their home studio often offer a free one hour session included in their price.

Voiceover Production Costs

Who will be  editing and mastering the recorded voice tracks? Is that voiceover service included?  A voice actor who works remotely from their house already comes with built in savings in not charging you studio costs. Studios range from $100 per hour to thousands in the big cities. Some voice talents offer post production themselves, but busier ones subcontract that. Which means that cost ($20-30/hour on a 1:3 clean to unedited ratio) comes out of their pay. Most voice actors amortize the costs associated with their sound studios into the regular cost of doing business.

I’m a female voiceover artist who’s happy to work in either my studio or yours. Although I get to take my dog to my studio, so there’s that. I hope this outline has helped.

20 Comments
  1. Terri Nicole 11 months ago

    I love your approach to this topic. “2 weeks plus 30 years is my favorite line!” Thank you for such great info!

    • Author
      Kim Handysides 11 months ago

      Thanks Terri! It’s a keeper & I’ve used it multiple times in negotiations with clients 🙂

  2. Craig 11 months ago

    Great article Kim. We want to provide our voice over clients with a professional service and articles like this can help some people understand our quotes better.

    • Author
      Kim Handysides 11 months ago

      Thanks Craig!Feel free to share 🙂

  3. Mike Harrison 11 months ago

    Brilliance!

    It reminded me of the now old story of a commercial session, which was apparently quite short, that had just ended and the talent had left. The client said to the engineer, “It’s crazy that I had to pay him so much for spending so little time.” To which the engineer replied, “You didn’t pay him for the time he just spent in this session. You paid him for all the years of study, practice and experience he spent getting to the point where he was able to deliver what you asked for quickly, efficiently and professionally.”

    • Author
      Kim Handysides 11 months ago

      Love it, Mike! I plan on quoting you 😉

  4. Lawrence 11 months ago

    Great article, Kim! There’s a countless number of people i can share this with as a quick “just in case you didn’t know…”

    Thanks!

    • Author
      Kim Handysides 11 months ago

      Thanks Lawrence! Sharing is caring 😀

  5. Dan Hurst 11 months ago

    Classic!

    Definitely a share!!!

    • Author
      Kim Handysides 11 months ago

      Thanks so much Dan 🙂

  6. Conchita Congo 11 months ago

    Great article. Gives me easy to understand concepts to share with my clients.

    • Author
      Kim Handysides 11 months ago

      I’d love to find out is any of this info makes a difference for you with your clients Conchita. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Eric 11 months ago

    This is my favorite line for price hagglers who love my voice but not my fees;
    “I’m a professional, full time, trained voice actor. You may want to consider someone of lesser experience, talent, and ability to accommodate your budget.”

  8. Eric 11 months ago

    This is my favorite line for price hagglers who love my voice but not my fees;
    “I’m a professional, full time, trained voice actor. You may want to consider someone of lesser experience, talent, and ability to accommodate your budget.”

  9. Stefan Chinell 11 months ago

    I havetwo rate sheets: one for industrial (word-count based) and one for commercial (exposure-based). I can give a price in 30 secs. Works just fine. http://www.swedvoice.se

    • Author
      Kim Handysides 11 months ago

      Great idea Stefan. Love the layout of your site. Simple. Upfront. Fun. I’m curious. With your rates shown like that, do you think you get more conversion?

  10. Marcela Loria 11 months ago

    HI Kim! I am Marcela Loría, VO talent from Costa Rica.
    This is the best VO article I have read in a long time! You said everything so clear that, even when I have been around this bussiness for the last 20 years, it was pretty enlightening to me. I needed to stop by and say this to you 🙂
    I would love to share your article with my collegues in CR.
    It was great reading every single word you wrote.
    I am here: http://www.voiceoverfromparadise.com
    Great weekend!

    • Author
      Kim Handysides 11 months ago

      Ola Marcela! Thank you so much for your kind words. Very much appreciated. Please do share my article. The more all our clients understand our process, the easier it is to explain our rates 🙂 Where are you in beautiful Costa Rica? I’ve been in San Jose, Liberia, Monteverde and Playas del Cocos in Guanacaste. Someday, I must go back.

  11. Tim Bick 11 months ago

    I get to take my dog to the studio too, though sometimes he has to be ejected for snoring too loudly.

    • Author
      Kim Handysides 11 months ago

      rotfl!

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