How to Avoid This Big Voiceover Mistake

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Like most small business owners just starting out, budding voice talent tend to severely undervalue themselves out of desperation and fear they may lose the job.

Insert your own twisted rationale here (“But, I’m just getting started!” “I’m happy to get paid at all.” “It’s just for this one job.” “It’s for a friend/neighbor/relative/friend of a friend”) but fast forward a year or two, and you’re still committed to doing three or more projects a week for the same vendor to whom you undersold yourself. Only you’re not just doing the voiceover, you’re also handling all of the production—and not getting paid for it. To make matters worse, you’re locked into that $50-per-job rate you quoted them from the start. You’d make more money walking dogs or babysitting.

Now you’re overwhelmed, when all you wanted to do was get your voiceover career started. You didn’t think the first couple of clients would snowball into this. Yet here you are, spending more time and effort recording and editing than actually voicing anything.

The phrase “cheap is very expensive” comes to mind.

READ: Unlock the Voiceover Success With Expert Advice

This is the greatest obstacle voice talent face today. Here’s why: Doing something for nothing or near nothing (say, under $200) sets a poor precedent in this or any business, because clients come to rely on the rate you quoted them initially for all future projects. When a client asks, “What’s your rate?” they already want to hire you! They wouldn’t be asking otherwise; they simply don’t know what they’re getting for their money.

You may be new to this field and have very little production experience, but guess what? That corporate client who wants to hire you to do the video narration probably has even less than you! Especially if you’re trained, and you’ve spent some time and attention producing a professional voiceover demo you can be proud of. So when they ask if the production is included, they’re asking because they honestly don’t know it isn’t! (Nor should it be.) So if you’re worried you’ll lose the gig should you not agree to deliver services well beyond your actual production capabilities—relax. And inform your potential client your fee is solely for your voiceover performance skills.

Truly professional voice talent aren't producers, casting directors, and talent agents all rolled into one. And while you may have skills in any or all of these areas as well, it doesn’t mean you’re required to multi-purpose and thereby lessen the quality of the final product. If you do, it’s more than likely you’ll find yourself facing chronically complaining clients. Mass media alone contributes to clients’ unrealistic expectations of what they’ll get for their promotional dollar. They’ll expect production values that parallel the NBC Nightly News, which you couldn’t possibly deliver on your own. Learn to leave it to the professionals. Even voice talent with some semblance of production acumen are generally out of their depth when they attempt to deliver much beyond recording and uploading raw audio files to the production client’s cloud simply because they aren’t getting paid for it.

Precious few voiceover talents effectively estimate the true value of their voiceovers, and the media in which their performance may be used (or reused). This is precisely why producers and talent agents exist, and why traditionally those services are wholly separate professions.

Other than that, take the rate sheet from just about any Pay-to-Play site, and add—yes, add—20–30 percent to determine your rate as a nonunion voiceover. Be bold. Be confident. But stand firm. You’re in a poker game, my friend. Rest assured, the rates on these sites are far too low in the first place, and that’s a perfect jumping off point to establish yourself as a professional. Plus, you’ll account for various unforeseen costs that will inevitably arise and allow room for growth and negotiation with your newly forged client.

Now take a look at our voiceover audition listings!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Kate McClanaghan
Kate McClanaghan is a casting director, producer, and founder of both Big House Casting & Audio (Chicago and Los Angeles) and Actors’ Sound Advice. She’s a seasoned industry veteran and actor who has trained actors and produced demos for more than 5,000 performers over her 30 years in the business.