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.
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.
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.