Over the past decade, I’ve watched the rates for voiceover—and, frankly, all professional actors—take a massive dive well below anywhere they should be for this or any profession.
When I was in college in the ‘80s, I voiced radio spots for two regular clients for the better part of four years to help pay my way through school. Unlike many non-union voice talents today, I didn’t have to record, edit, or write the spots I voiced. I average 5-10 spots a month at a rate of $150 per spot.
Fast forward to today. Wouldn’t you think 30+ years later, projects like that would be worth more? If you said, “yes,” I happen to agree with you. And SAG-AFTRA, who has consistently established the standards that even nonunion work adheres to, does too. The job is worth more! Especially when you consider usage, an industry term producers, CDs, and agents use when determining your rate of pay for any given project.
So, if the average rate for a small market, radio-only voiceover that I didn’t have to record, edit, or mix ran $150 per spot in the ‘80s, why is it that these days, it’s routine to find voiceover jobs that only pay $25-50? Or worse, offer to do jobs for that low rate?
In this industry, you’re either a professional or you’re not. But don’t assume the shallow end of the pool is equivalent to a shot glass. No matter how you cut it, that’s just bad business to deep-six your rate like that. It undermines your experience, skill, and authority, regardless of how long you’ve been pursuing work.
Scores of talent who are often “just getting started” lock themselves in the virtual basement when it comes to getting paid for their work because they don’t know:
- How to get a proper talent agent who would likely afford them five to fifty-five times more than the individual talent would ever get on their own.
- What the project is truly worth, thinking they can “raise their rates at a later date.” Clients come to rely on the rate you initially gave them, which makes raising your rate incredibly difficult after the fact, especially if you unwittingly low-balled yourself to the point of losing money.
- They are sometimes unwittingly agreeing to include various production options (such as recording, mixing, and editing) all for a flat, sub-standard voiceover rate, typically out of fear of “losing the gig.” (Word to the wise: Clients rarely choose the cheapest rate on anything. That’s Business 101.)
- There’s likely to be more projects to voice in the future (often unbeknownst to the client when they first hire you). The client would have paid a proper rate to begin with had they been prepared for it in advance.
Your mission is to have a long and storied career, one you can support yourself in provided you don’t frustrate yourself into oblivion.
Bottom line: if you want your voiceover pay to improve, the next time you get a nonunion audition for a national brand, do yourself and every other voice talent a massive favor and drop an anonymous dime on that job to SAG-AFTRA at (877) 280-6705. When national brands cast nonunion talent, it’s very likely they are breaking legal agreements they’ve made with advertising agencies, the union, production, and broadcasters, not to mention commitments to quality work standards that protect all talent and the opportunity to achieve a living wage for their work.
This is more than a challenge. This should be commitment all talent dedicate them selves to, regardless if you’re currently a union talent or ever hope to be. This is the only way we can effectively improve our situation rather than accepting the sub-par status quo or assuming someone else should do something about it.
If you intend to do valuable work and hope to be valued for your skills and expertise, then you have to let SAG-AFTRA know. It’s completely confidential. But they can’t help us as professional actors if we don’t stand up for ourselves from the start.
Check out Backstage’s 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.