Voiceover Read Rate, and How Improving It Increases Your Bottom Line

Voiceover Read Rate, and How Improving It Increases Your Bottom Line

pile of scripts improve your reading rateWhat the heck is a read rate? As a voiceover artist, your read rate is the difference between the length of your raw voiceover file and the length of your finished, edited one. And if you do any long form narration, it’s something to strive to ever improve. For example, if it takes you three hours to read one hour of finished text, your read rate is 3:1. Chatting with several colleagues recently – professional VO’s who’ve been in it for 5 or 6 years, I discovered that for the majority of them (all of them making a decent living), this is their read rate. But there are a few of us, present company included, who read at a rate of 1.2:1 or better. A tight read rate means your narration business is much more profitable.  Your costs per hour and your opportunity to increase your bottom line is greatly enhanced. want to make more money? Have more time? Let’s break this down.


Voiceover Read Rate Case Study


Let’s examine an imaginary case for read rate. Say you just booked a job at the eLearning narration rate of$1200 for a finished hour. If your read rate is 3:1, it will take you 3 hours to narrate and  6-7 hours to edit those 3 hours. So that means you spend 10 hours to produce that one hour of finished product, and you will be working at a rate of $120 an hour. Not bad. But it can be better. For the same job, with a read rate of 1.2 hours of raw to 1 hour finished, not only does it takes you less time to read, but it also takes you less time to edit. 1.2 hours plus 2 to 2.8 (to keep my math simple) to edit and it now took you 4 hours to produce an hour instead of 10 hours. You are now working at $300 an hour. Nice! Those extra 6 hours can be filled with more time to audition and narrate, or time to market or improve your craft or hit the gym. Sub out your editing to a good sound editor and your time/money profit increases further.

Getting Paid to Improve Your Read Rate

$100 bills, make more money voice over businessUnlike a lot of things in the current voiceover market, a tight read rate is one area where having a few years of experience reading the news live on TV or radio really helps. As well as several years as a DJ and a newsreader, I worked the six o’clock supper hour news shows at two major market networks, and a third national cable station doing weather. They had different approaches to presentation but the CBC gig was the one that really improved my read rate. For CTV and the Weather Network, our weather presentations were totally improvised. You fed the numbers and maps to the control room, stayed up to date with any changes to the forecast, and built your 5 minute presentation around the boards and maps unscripted. The CBC format demanded that I type up my forecast ahead of time to feed it to the teleprompter. Working with a prompter doing weather, helped in so many ways. While anchors and reporters have a more stylized sound, weather people don’t. Ad-libbing, right? You have to make it sound like you’re not reading. In that way, weather people are kind of the equivalent of TV DJ’s (minus the cool factor). So even though I was reading, I had to make it sound like I wasn’t. The biggest giveaway? Flubbing a line as I read. We just don’t do that in real life. One thing that greatly added to making sure I didn’t muff my lines was the pressure I put on myself to sound flawless. What helped create that pressure cooker? Heightened concentration.


Taking Your Read Rate to the Next Level


 roman road. improve your narration, solidifySince leaving TV and radio (over 20 years ago) I’ve been a full-time pretty-much-constantly-working VO artist. Before technology disruption made it affordable for us to create our own home studios, my motivation for improving my read rate was saving my clients studio time, aka money. This made me a popular client choice and fostered a lot of repeat business. The texts given were always read cold (without having seen them before). A visual artist friend of mine talks about the years it takes to build the eye-hand coordination to be able to faithfully (re)produce images (in her case paintings). There’s a brain connection that has to be exercised regularly to make it happen. It takes time and concentrated effort to forge it, but then once that connection has been created, it’s pretty much like a Roman built road. It’s permanent. In breaking down my own process to do the same with voiceover, I’ve gathered a small, but effective compendium of techniques to be able to improve eye-mouth co-ordination which I’ll be sharing at my X session Narration 2.0 at VO Atlanta 2019.


If you’ve already signed up, looking forward to working with you. And if you haven’t, there are only a couple spots left. See you there!

  1. Bill Jurney 12 months ago

    Great advice Kim!

  2. Ray Girard 12 months ago

    I don’t agree 100% that a faster read would result in so much more saved time editing it. Yes, there would be a shorter time to edit, but it could easily result in more editing, as well. Mouth clicks and pops would still be there, in the same quantity…..almost. (A speedier read sometimes means a smaller chance of hearing artifacts, but for others, not at all. ) The rate has to be comfortable, especially for long reads. An unnatural speed might also change…..as you progress, since it isn’t normal to you. Practice in this area is always good, though.

    • Author
      Kim Handysides 12 months ago

      Hi Ray,
      I appreciate your comment.
      You’re right – mouth clicks, pops, breaths etc all still there whether you start with a file that’s 3 hours or one that’s 1 hour. To clarify, I wasn’t talking about the speed at which one reads – each of us will sort that out in the ebbs and flows of our performance. I was strictly talking about the length of the raw unedited file to get there.
      For example, my daughter (though she’d been doing commercials and animation since she was 7) recently began doing longer narrations. Last week she had a file with a finished length of 15 minutes, but the raw file she sent to be edited was 45 minutes. The editor definitely took longer wading through that than as if I had read it and I sent in a file of only 16 or 17 minutes to whittle down to 15. That’s the read rate I’m talking about: raw to finished.
      Thanks for taking the time to weigh in. 🙂

  3. Dave Pettitt 12 months ago

    This kind of article is so helpful for voice talent to improve their skills. Identifying things like your read speed, read rate, and your editing speed with a dedication to improve those skills is important, like you’ve said to increase your pay per hour, but also to make you that much more valuable to your client in turning around audio quickly.

    A couple years ago, I recorded a handful of sample to send to clients for getting an idea of what read speed sounds like. 140 words per minute, 150 and so on up to 200. It was to give them an idea of what their over-written scripts would sound like. For the most part, it didn’t help 😉

    Great piece, Kim. I wish I were going to be in Atlanta just for this session. I’ll look for a video download after the event. Thanks for writing

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