Podcasts, audiobooks, voiceovers, video games, radio, dubbing—voice acting is having a moment. All of which means it’s a boom industry for actors with silky vocal skills. If you feel your voice is your strongest suit, then you can definitely earn money from the many opportunities on offer in the UK. But how much? We take a look.
In plain terms, voice acting is acting with just your voice, and it’s a real skill that is in hot demand. Not only do you have to have a voice people want to hear, but a good voice actor must have impeccable timing and vocal flexibility. Plenty of actors make a decent living without ever being seen on screen or on stage. They get work doing voiceovers for ads, on radio dramas, video games, reading audiobooks, and increasingly, dubbing different types of content.
Voice acting can incorporate all kinds of work, from drama to documentary, small-scale museums to global brands. And the UK is particularly strong in this area, with a thriving radio drama scene, an exponentially increasing number of podcasts and audiobooks, as well as countless opportunities for work in both the subsidised and commercial sectors.
What voice actors are able to charge depends on a range of factors: What’s the content being used for? What’s the word count? What rights are included? Is it for broadcast? Who is the client? If in doubt, ask your agent or other actors. Knowing your worth—financial and otherwise—is important. Don’t let yourself be taken for a ride.
Different mediums pay different rates.
- Radio: BBC Radio Drama is covered by an Equity minimum agreement, meaning that there is a pay grade no one will earn below. Currently these are set at £191 for a programme with a single transmission, and £280 for a programme with two transmissions. If you’re doing an ad on commercial radio, pay is calculated according to the licence held, the area covered by the station and the number of listeners tuning in, and can vary from less than £20 for a community station to three figures for a national radio station. The fee is per voice script, per station, not per session. So how long will they book you for? Well obviously that depends, but a 13-minute episode of BBC stalwart The Archers takes two hours to record so a good rule of thumb might be four hours studio time for every half hour of drama produced!
- Documentary narration: For documentary narration, Equity suggests the basic studio fee for a voice actor would generally be between £200 and £300 an hour. If you get a documentary gig you could be in studio for a couple of days, but it depends on the duration of the film/podcast etc.
- Film and TV ADR: ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) or looping is when actors are hired to replace the sub par audio recorded on a TV show or film. There’s principal ADR which means you’re replacing your own dialogue, or Group ADR which is recording atmosphere to add to a productions soundscape. ADR can be a couple of hours work or days depends on how good the sound guy was on set and how big the production’s budget is.
- Audiobooks: The Grand Dame of audio work, the audio book is definitely something to consider for the aspiring voice actor. It’s usually a longish gig – actors will spend around 4-6 hours a day behind the mic so you’ll need stamina as well as talent. It’s also likely you’ll be reading one book for three days plus, so be prepared. Financially, average rates can nudge anywhere from £70-£100 per finished hour.
- Video Games: Another great booming area to get into. The UK has a big video games industry and so needs plenty of voice actors. Most UK Studios pay £250 on average for game dialogue but don’t let that stop you negotiating a higher rate! Consider the game size, the number of platforms it’ll feature on and its global reach. OMUK is one of the bigger UK studios and is worth taking a look at when investigating what the work involves.
- Commercials: When it comes to corporate or commercial gigs, consider what it’s for, what it’s being used for and how much time it will take you to do. Most voice artists have a BSF (Basic Session Fee), that’s likely to be somewhere between £125 to £300. It’s common to use that as an hourly rate and charge depending on how long it is likely to take you to record. A typical session for a radio ad could take anything from a couple of hours to a few days.
- Audio guides: Another growth audio area is the recording of audio guides for museums and galleries etc. Equity quotes an hourly rate not below £220, but beware it’s a tough gig. They’re often done at the last minute and can be really intensive, in that you won’t have much time to record a significant volume of material, so you’ll earn that money!
As with other types of actor, voice actors are mainly self-employed and so either negotiate their own rates or have their agent do it for them. In some specific areas, Equity has been able to negotiate agreed minimum rates, but voice acting is a much less unionised part of the business than TV, for example.
So what are some of the important points for a voice actor to consider?
Usage and Buyout
When negotiating a voice contract it’s important to consider Usage and Buyout. Equity explains it like this: “Usage is an extra payment for use outside the basic contract and is for a fixed period, after which you would be entitled to negotiate further payment for additional usage. Buyout means a one-off fee and no entitlement to ongoing payments. However, you can restrict your Buyout to a single type of Usage, e.g. on a website, but not as a pre-roll ad... As with other areas of the industry, buyouts are becoming more frequently offered.”
The more gigs you book the more money you can charge, but the more strain your voice will undergo. Audiobooks for example can be hugely demanding, requiring many hours in a studio. Bear this in mind when negotiating. And if you’re quoting for business, consider what your voice is being used for, how much time you’ll devote to doing it, and how long the company will own the rights to the content.
Audio is a growth market and it’s likely there will be lots of work available for those who want it. According to market experts, the global podcasting market alone was worth $11.46bn in 2020, and is expected to grow by over a third again from 2021 to 2028.
Paul Fleming, the General Secretary of Equity, admits they are slightly playing a bit of catch up given with the enormous growth in audio sector. “It’s a massive shift. Audiobooks and podcasts exploded recently and we’'re trying to get a handle on it.” However, he insists that it really is a “huge priority area” for the organisation.
Whether you’re an established voice actor in the UK, or are just starting out, we wish you the best of luck.
Check out Backstage’s UK audition listings!