How much should you pay a professional voice actor?

You might ask yourself how come some platforms offer $10 voice overs while others charge thousands.

The contradictory results are due primarily to advancements in technology in the recording industry.

These days, anyone can buy a decent microphone and interface for a few hundred dollars or less and record high-quality audio from home.

Obviously, the common room at home isn’t the ideal recording setting, but there are plenty of tips online to help turn a cupboard into a convincing vocal booth, etc.

With high-quality digital recording being more accessible, more people can now offer voice over services.

What that means for you as a client is that you are choosing from a much wider field. A field that now includes professionals, amateurs, and anyone with a microphone who wants some extra cash.

The difference in training and experience levels from one voice actor to the next accounts for the considerable differences in price.

In recent years there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people looking for ways to generate income from home.

This rise went hand-in-hand with the growth of freelancer platforms like Fiverr, PeoplePerHour and others.

Platforms like Fiverr provide a means for artists of all levels to connect with clients who need their services.

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Are freelancer platforms a good thing?

Overall, the answer is a resounding, yes!

These platforms give clients more options, which should lead to value for money.

For freelancers, these platforms create employment opportunities that weren’t widely available before.

Despite voice over rates being standardized to some extent (we will get into figures in a bit), freelancers either set their own prices, or are bound by low rates imposed by some of these platforms.

That is where the issue lies.

Think of it from a professional voice talent’s point of view.

Like playing an instrument, anyone can learn to play the right notes, but how you play them is what makes the difference.

You’ve worked hard to perfect your craft and build your reputation, so your pay should reflect that, right?

That sounds entirely reasonable, but when you normally charge ten times more than the competition, it’s a hard sell.

So, professional voice actors are left with a couple of options:

They can go against the trend and refuse to join such platforms, missing out on countless potential opportunities.

Alternatively, they can join low-cost platforms and most likely do well through a combination of reducing rates and showcasing their skillset.

That, however, hurts the professional VO industry the most, because it wrongfully creates a lower pay “standard” for professional voice overs in the eyes of clients.

As a client, it’s your responsibility to make sure you know exactly what you are buying.

It would be easy to say “you get what you pay for” and assume that higher rates mean a better service.

In reality, voice artists can lower rates for different reasons; experience, undercutting the competition, etc.

The price of the service isn’t always a direct indication of the talent on offer, so research properly and listen to all available demos.

That brings us nicely to our point; the first question you ask yourself shouldn’t be how much should I pay for a voice actor?

The first question you should ask yourself is, what do I need from a voice actor?

 

Knowing what you need

We’ll keep this nice and short with a simple example.

If a casting director is looking for someone to get in a panda suit and dance around as a high school mascot in the latest teen movie, they probably don’t need Oscar winner Robert De Niro (or the cost that comes with him).

A lesser actor, with all due respect, will fill that role just fine with no discernible difference.

Likewise, would Taxi Driver or Raging Bull be the same movies if ………………………….. had played the lead role? (to avoid offending anyone we will let you fill in the blank).

In short, ask yourself, do you need Robert De Niro, or will Robert De Nearly do?

Cutting corners is never more than a short-term gain, so hire the right talent, not just the right price.

Okay, terrible joke, but you get the idea; understanding what your project needs puts you in a better position to decide how much you should pay.

One benefit of using a dedicated voice talent platform like Voice Crafters, is that you can be sure the talent has been vetted. Quotes you receive can have a wide range, but all voice actors deliver a professional recording. It’s up to you to decide who is the best fit for your project.

Before we start talking numbers, let’s look at some industry-specific terms, so your negotiating power doesn’t get lost in translation.

 

Industry Definitions

voice over rates - studio engineer

Buyout

Buyout refers to a flat rate that is paid for the usage rights of a voice recording. The flat rate is agreed on the basis that you can use the recording where, how, and as often as you like.

 

Per hour vs. per finished hour

Per hour is a rate charged for the number of hours the artist spends at the studio recording the audio.

Per finished hour means their rate includes time spent cleaning up and processing the recording, leaving you with edited and sweetened audio.

A recording that has not been processed is what we would call raw audio.

 

Per project

Per project is a simple one-off payment that is agreed upon for the completion of a project. This fee doesn’t change, no matter how long or short the project is.

 

Per session

Per session is when the actor is paid a set fee for each recording session. Commonly referred to as a session fee or BSF (Basic Session Fee).

 

Per spot

Per spot means the actor is paid a set fee for each commercial spot.

 

Pickups

These are words, phrases, or sentences that need to be corrected or edited after the initial recording. Standard pickups are things like mispronunciations, misplaced emphasis, or the client asking for variations.

 

Residuals

Residuals are payments made to a union member for commercial work. These payments are made periodically, and due each time the work is broadcast.

 

Scratch track

A scratch track is a temporary recording that is used as a placeholder for the final version. Scratch tracks are an excellent guide to indicate the length or even desired delivery of the piece.

 

Session

A session or recording session, refers to a block of time spent in the studio for recording. If the artist leaves the studio, then returns later to work on the same project, that counts as a new session, even if it’s on the same day. Keep that in mind if you are paying the talent per session.

 

Spot

A spot is how we refer to a commercial on TV, film, radio, or online. Often referred to as a commercial spot, these ads are usually 30 or 60 seconds long. Spots are also typically edited into short/long versions for different use.

 

Union rates

These are the minimum rates charged by union members for voice over work. Unions include SAG-AFTRA in the US and Equity in the UK.

 

Usage

Usage refers to how the recording will be used, and is the most critical factor in determining voice over rates.

The type of voice over will often dictate its usage.

For example, e-learning courses are mostly used internally within an organization, while commercials air on TV, radio or online.

Outward-facing voice recordings like ones used for commercials will often carry a higher cost simply because they are more widely distributed.

 

What are the deciding factors?

voice over rates - studio engineer at desk

Now that you are more familiar with some industry terms let’s look at each part in more detail.

 

Usage

When it comes to determining professional voice over rates, how the recorded audio will be used is the most important factor.

The general rule is that the voice actor will expect to be paid more if the project has a higher exposure level.

For example, a commercial spot on a nationally syndicated radio station would have to pay more than the same spot on a local radio station.

The reason for the higher pay is that more people will hear it, and that extra reach brings more potential sales/leads to the client.

The voice actor, rightfully, will feel that they deserve a fitting return for their part in generating these profits.

The reason usage is so important is that the voice actor generally owns the rights to the voice recording.

As a client, you are buying a license to use that recording in an agreed way.

There are a few situations where the client can own the rights to the audio recording.

The first is a full buyout deal. As we explained before, this is a one-time fee in exchange for the full usage rights of the recording.

Then there are situations like the voice actor taking on a project on behalf of an agency and is asked to sign a work for hire agreement.

A work for hire agreement means that all work carried out under that contract is the property of the employer.

Outside of those situations, the voice actor owns the usage rights to the audio recordings.

Clients have to understand that even if they own the script, the actual audio recording is a different entity.

 

Project Type

Voice actors will often charge using different metrics for different jobs.

With commercials, the fees will be made up of a session fee, studio cost (if applicable), post-production and usage.

As we mentioned, the bigger the audience, the bigger the brand, and the longer the ad plays for, the more the voice actor will expect to be paid.

With e-learning courses, given that they are used internally within an organization, the charge is normally based on word count and the number of files outputted.

Corporate branding and product videos are often charged by the length of the video and its usage.

Videos used online with paid advertising will cost more, depending on the length of the buyout period. However, videos that sit on a client’s YouTube channel for example and not used for advertising purposes will cost much less.

Audiobooks are usually charged by their length. It’s commonplace for narrators to charge on a PFA (per finished hour) basis, as we mentioned earlier.

Telephone messages or IVR prompts are usually charged on a per-word basis with minimum pricing in case of a very short script.

Costs for voicing video games and animation can vary a lot. A big factor affecting price is how much of an asset the character being voiced is.

Voicing someone who is the hero of a major release on consoles will attract a fee on the higher end of the pay scale, while a minor character in a cheap indie PC game is going to be at the opposite end.

And then there’s also the time factor to consider. If the actor isn’t getting much direction, then it may take them longer to nail the performance to your satisfaction.

 

Home studio vs. commercial studio

As we discussed earlier, affordable digital recording equipment makes high-quality audio recording possible from home so for the most part, you’ll be hiring a voice talent who will be working from their home studio.

Despite high-quality home recording, there may be specific projects that you require to be recorded in a professional studio.

It will also play a part in deciding how you pay – per hour, per session, etc. Keep in mind that working from a professional studio comes with additional costs: booking fee, engineer/producer, talent travel expenses, and so on.

It is quite common for artists working from home to be paid per project as it avoids any timekeeping issues.

 

Union vs. Non-Union

Union voice actors

We’ve mentioned unions, and they are a prominent part of the voice over industry in the US and the UK (but not in all countries).

Membership is voluntary, but members benefit from the collective bargaining power of the group. A union’s main focus is on setting minimum standards for working conditions and rates of pay so that members are never exploited.

Unions have a standard price list for voice over work which on the one hand takes away the guess work, but on the other removes room for negotiation.

Many members of a union like SAG / AFTRA also do non-union work and can be hired for such projects.

It’s important to realize that if a production, such as a sitcom or a TV commercial, uses union actors, then any voice over actors hired for that production must also be members of a union and be compensated accordingly.

Non-union voice actors

If you’ve searched even a little online then you might have noticed that there are plenty of websites which specialize in offering professional, but also cut-price voice actors.

As we mentioned earlier, cheap technology allows almost anyone to set up their own home studio and produce high-quality voice recordings. However, a professional set up does not guarantee you professional results any more than buying a helicopter makes somebody a good pilot.

The most important part of the equation is still the actor, their voice, their training, experience and their level of professionalism.

We think that in most cases you’ll be able to hear the difference if you settle for a bargain-basement option.

There really is no substitute for talent and experience, and your brand deserves nothing less than the best of both.

 

Post-production

What we are talking about here is how the actor is expected to deliver their performance.

Non-sync / “Wild”

The actor will read the script at their natural pace.

A professional voice actor will typically produce around 15-20 minutes or 2,200 – 3,000 words in an hour.

This average accounts for time spent reviewing the recording and fixing mistakes.

These averages are subject to change depending on the content. For example, if it’s an audiobook, the average is more like 30 minutes in an hour. For scripts that are full or more technical language, the average may be lower.

A “Wild” recording is one where the voice actor will repeat some of the lines/phrases to provide more options for the client.

Time-sync

In this style, the actor will sync their delivery with the action on the screen, or to a specific duration.

This kind of timing isn’t always easy and can often take multiple takes, making it more time-consuming, although subtle timing issues are often fixed in post-production.

Lip-sync

As you’d expect, this is when the actor syncs their delivery with the lip movements of someone onscreen. Lip-sync is the most challenging kind of voice over work, and that makes it the most time-consuming.

Voice actors need to connect with the character on screen, matching the correct emotions as well as the words.

If done poorly, your project will resemble the English versions of your favorite classic Kung-Fu movies.

There can be additional production costs involved with a foreign dubbing project, as the script will need to be adapted to match the lip movements and consider the changes in pace for the localized language.

Besides being the most time-consuming, lip-sync is also the most uncommon type of voice over work.

Because of the time and expense, it’s usually reserved for higher budget projects (movies, games, etc.).

Localization projects often go with a time-sync or a UN-style approach. Here’s an example of what that sounds like.

 

Will the actor be involved in post-production?

In any project, the client should clearly set out the deliverables.

In other words, what they expect the talent to hand them at the end of the project. They will either ask to be provided with raw or finished audio, as we detailed earlier.

There are a few potential scenarios here; let’s look at the most likely ones:

  • If the voice artist is working from a home studio, it’s quite common for them to edit the audio themselves. Many professional voice artists who record from home are well versed in both recording and editing software.
  • If the actor is working from a professional studio, it’s most likely that the studio engineer/producer will be the one to clean up the audio.

In either situation, you might have your own editor in place. In which case, you would receive the raw audio to pass on to your editor.

Post-production work will increase the voice actor’s fee.

 

Project size

A voice actor may charge you a lower rate for a longer or an on-going project.

From their perspective, it’s work they can count on over a longer period, so they won’t be spending as much unpaid time looking for the next project.

That’s economies of scale at work for ya!

 

Pickups

Sometimes, mistakes make it through into a recording because you can’t always avoid human error.

Other times, the recording might be done but then you realize that something else needs to be added.

This is where you need to consult with the voice actor on what their policy is. Generally, talent will either allow for one revision after the recording, or ask for an additional fee for any script changes made after the recording.

Of course, if errors are made on the actor’s side, they will usually re-record at no extra charge.

 

Live-Directed Sessions

When you want to convey the message that’s been playing in your head, nothing beats a live-directed session, because you can direct the voice actor in real-time.

The advantage of remote sessions is in ensuring that you get the talent to say it like you want them to, and fine-tune any quirks on the spot.

Many talents however do charge a fee for live direction, simply because it is more time consuming for them. Keep in mind that in that reserved time block they could have probably knocked down another client’s assignment.

 

Agents

One more factor to add to the mix is the agent.

Not all voice actors use them, but plenty do. Agents are expensive to feed and generally ask for a 20% fee on top of the costs above.

Real-life examples

voice over rates - young coworkers in office meeting

 

Rather than list every possible type of usage, we can now break down a few of the most common types.

We will use standard rates provided by the Global Voice Acting Academy (GVAA), check them out for more detailed information on rates.

 

Yes, that’s right, we are finally going to talk numbers!

 

Standard rates for common types of usage

Corporate & industrial videos

Corporate videos last around 2-3 minutes on average. They are usually short info / promotional videos that detail a company’s mission statement, product or service offerings, etc.

They tend to be shown in sales meetings, on the company website / social media YouTube and other non-broadcast platforms.

For non-paid placements, voice actors typically charge based on the length of the video.

Basic Fee

Rate per finished minute – $350 – $450 for 1 – 2 minutes

Single video usage only (non-broadcast / non-web advertisement online placement).
Includes editing and file naming/splits.
Industrial voice overs can command higher rates based on complexity of industry or subject matter.

Audiobooks

An average audiobook of around 80,000 words translates to about 9 hours of audio.
Audiobooks are generally recorded and edited by the voice actor.

Basic Fee

Non-union PFH (Per Finished Hour) rate – $300 – $350

TV Commercials

TV commercial spots come with a session fee on top of the usage costs.
Usage will be determined by the reach of the ad campaign. Info is based on local markets versus major markets over one year, paid on a per spot basis.

Basic Fee

Local markets – $1200 – $1,500

National (US) Market – $3,200 – $3,500

• Rates include session fee and usage fee for the time period specified for spots from :15 – :90.
• The rate is negotiable for multiple spots. Renewal option is existing rate PLUS 10%-20% of original rate.

Video Games

The rate of pay for a video game voice over depends on the character and the platform. A leading character on a popular console will attract a higher fee than a secondary character on a PC game. The type of voice over and time it takes will factor in the cost, too. We will work with the example of a character with 2000 words.

Full buyout rate

$200 – $350 per hour (2-4 hours minimum) *

Common per session rate you may see is $500 for a 1hr max session.
Buyout rate depends on the game and platform (Sometimes fixed)

Standard Rate Guides

We mentioned the GVAA already. Their rate guide is the industry-standard for professional voice talent in the United States.

Similarly, in the UK, Gravy for the Brain provides the industry-standard rate guide. GFTB is also the UK’s largest organization providing voice over training.

 

Rate Calculator

If you wish to skip the guides and go straight to a calculator that factors in your location, the type of voice over and more, simply head on to Gravy for the Brain’s Rate calculator here.

 

Other things to consider

voice over rates - man at his workstation

Unlimited Usage

Many professional voice artists will refuse to provide unlimited worldwide usage for commercial voice overs (and rightfully so). This is because:

  1. It’s unlikely that a voice over for a French commercial, for example, will air in a non-French speaking country.
  2. It’s also highly unlikely that a client will actually run the commercial in perpetuity.

Why Brands matter

Continuing this line of thought – when a talent is recognized as the voice for one brand, it limits their ability to act as the voice for a competing brand.

If for example, a voice actor is sourced to be the voice of Spotify with a usage period of 12 months, they may not be able to work for competing brands like YouTube Music and Tidal during this time period, because of a conflict of interest.

You may say, Okay…so they wouldn’t be able to work for 2 or 3 competing brands, but some brands have tens or hundreds of competitors, which would effectively become the opportunity cost for the talent.

 

Conclusion

At the end of our article, we hope that you now have a better understanding of what factors determine professional voice over rates.

Along the way, we’ve also given you some insight on the voice acting industry and profession.

From industry-specific lingo to the various factors that determine voice over pricing, you know everything you need to know to hire the right voice actor at the right price.

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