Whether you excel at character voices or have a natural, pleasing tone that’s ideal for voiceover work, voice acting can be an exciting career that allows you to delve into a wide range of projects. But is it lucrative? Here’s everything you need to know about setting rates, boosting earning potential, and knowing your worth as an aspiring voice actor.
This is a field in which a performer uses their voice to tell a story or provide narration for both fictional and nonfictional pieces. This can range from bringing a cartoon character to life to guiding viewers through a documentary. To become a voice actor, professionals should have a distinctive yet clear speaking voice that can convey a wide range of emotions—as well as, in some cases, authority and relatability.
Voice actors can find work in:
- Video games
- Various multimedia projects
While voice acting opens the door to an exciting range of projects, every opportunity comes with its own level of earning potential. Voice actors cannot set one hourly rate across the board. More often, the project itself and the actor’s experience will dictate how much they make.
Aspiring talents should expect payment to vary based on experience, project, and the type of role. Voice acting covers a wide range of mediums, time commitments, and expertise.
Rates are dependent upon:
- The actor: Big-name actors with well-known voices and established portfolios, such as Morgan Freeman, can pull in a much larger salary for documentary work than an entry-level narrator.
- The project: The complexity and range of a project impacts how much an actor will earn. Creating multiple character voices and dynamic emotional journeys for an audiobook, for example, takes more effort and depth than recording a car dealership slogan.
- The time commitment: Recording a feature-length animated film requires significantly more time than a 15-second radio advertisement.
- The word count: Lengthier scripts require more time and effort to record than shorter ones, boosting a voice actor’s earning potential.
- The recording’s usage: Local TV and radio spots typically pay at a lower rate than national broadcasts. Similarly, spots that run for a limited time will also pay less than those intended to run in perpetuity.
- Radio spot: $250–$350
- TV commercials: $100–$10,000
- Audiobook: $2,000–$5,000
- Video games: $200–$350/hr
- Starring role in animated feature film: $10,000
Nolan North recording for “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Zombie” Courtesy Treyarch
The annual voice actor salary will be commensurate with the actor’s talent and experience. If you find work primarily in local broadcasting, for example, you’ll see a significant difference from those who regularly book feature films.
According to ZipRecruiter, industry averages include:
- Entry-level voice actors: $13,500–$31,999 per year
- Mid-level voice actors: $69,000–$87,499 per year
- Experienced voice actors: $111,500–$199,000 per year
What makes a voice actor qualify as mid-level versus experienced? An experienced voice actor will have built up a considerable body of work that showcases their talent and range. They may have also found an industry niche, such as explainer videos, commercial voiceover, or video games. The more gigs you book, the higher rate you can demand.
So how much do voice actors make a month? All things considered, the average voice actor can expect to earn about $6,358 a month or around $37 an hour. Aspiring voice actors should expect a lower monthly rate until they’ve established themselves as a credible, reliable talent. Starting off as an entry-level voice actor will net you about $1,916 a month or around $12 an hour, but there’s plenty of time to boost your future earning potential.
When you’re just beginning your career as a voice actor, it’s important to set a rate that reflects your willingness to book gigs without devaluing your time and talent.
One way to determine this is to use a simple hourly rate formula. While the pay range between mediums may vary, your time is one bankable constant. Consider the script’s length to see how long it will take you to record and start from there.
This will give you a base idea of an hourly rate that works for you depending on the time commitment. You may also consider setting fixed prices per project, such as $100 per radio spot. These rates should factor in not only the time it takes to record, but also whether or not you have to travel to a recording studio and how long the recording will be in use. If you do set rates per project, creating a rate sheet is an easy way to communicate with potential clients.
Other pricing factors to consider:
- Your experience: If you’re just starting out, you may consider a lower hourly rate to help you gain experience and build your portfolio. Setting a lower starting rate can help get your foot in the door so you can prove your talent.
- Your current equipment setup: Consider how your profit margins would be affected if the job required an investment in specialized or new equipment. Get an understanding of the job’s requirements upfront.
- Your vocal health: Voice actors need to protect their instruments—it’s not practical or healthy to strain your vocal chords through overuse. Be realistic about how many voiceover gigs you can book in a given week or month without overburdening your voice.
- Your marketing efforts: Pitching yourself to clients takes time away from recording, so think about how many hours per week you want to spend looking for and pitching to gigs.
- Your relationships: If you find yourself working with a client on a regular basis, offering a repeat-business discount may keep you at top of mind for future projects.
How much voice actors make in a month or year is also determined by whether or not the actor joins a union. Union jobs typically pay royalties (or voice acting residuals), whereas nonunion jobs are more likely to pay one-time amounts. SAG-AFTRA is the union voice actors can join in the United States.
Becoming a successful voice actor requires more than a unique voice; you also need to have an entrepreneurial spirit. You’ll need to market your talents, build a network of clients, and create a steady stream of income. Treat your voice-acting career like a business so that you can focus on making it a viable earning opportunity.
As you’re looking for work, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Many small jobs vs. one big job: While the appeal of landing a major role can’t be denied, booking several smaller jobs is a great way to bring in steady business and build your body of work.
- Stay open to opportunities: Auditioning for many different types of roles helps define your talent and niche. You may find that your voice naturally lends itself to audiobook narration rather than commercial work, for example. Try different projects to see what you enjoy most.
- Raise rates accordingly: At a certain point, your portfolio and experience will demand a higher price. Every year or so, evaluate your hourly rate or rate sheet to ensure that it reflects your skills and expertise. Your rates should match where you are in your professional journey.
Celebrities often make the most money when doing voiceover, but even those who aren’t household names have the potential to become top earners. Nancy Cartwright and Dan Castellaneta, for instance, who voice Bart and Homer Simpson, respectively, on “The Simpsons,” have individually earned up to $400,000 per episode.