the voiceover negotiator (establishing & defending your voiceover rates)

Get Paid Fair Market Voiceover RatesSome voice talent come into the voiceover business with blinders on…all they see are microphones, scripts and money. The business part they kind of “poo-poo” away dismissively, only to find themselves later to be playing catch up or out of the business entirely.

There are lots of books and videos and classes and seminars on all this voiceover business stuff.  Today, I thought I’d share my perspective on how to establish rates and execute negotiations after almost 40 years in voiceover. This isn’t all inclusive (you have to PAY for that 😉 ) but I will share some of what I feel are key points.

The business part of voiceover starts almost immediately, when you get your first job. Say it’s a commercial for a local bank…a local bank that has multiple branches across your state. It’s going to be on the radio and it’s :60 seconds. The client who offers you the job is a video production studio doing the production and hiring of the VO talent.

The studio offers you $50 for the gig.

Boy are you excited, first paying gig, heard across the state! All my family will hear it! This is my big break…here we go!

The excitement is understandable and natural.

SFX: Splashing a bucket of cold water on the new voice talent

Slow down there, Secretariat! Don’t jump into the studio yet.

That $50 fee is WAY too low for a regional radio spot.

If you accept the spot for that rate, you’ve established yourself as a VO who works way below rates and trust me, the studio KNOWS the REAL going rates for voiceover. You’ll spend the better part of your initial career either digging yourself OUT of the hole (because snide word travels fast on cheap talent) or you’ll be underpaid for the rest of what only you will consider a voiceover career.

But, you say, they said that was the fee, take it or leave it.

The “that’s the fee / take it or leave it” response can mean two things IN ANY BUSINESS:

  1. This IS all I am paying anyone for this
  2. This is my current deal and I don’t want to let you know I could pay more

Here’s how a business person (and now you’re a working voice talent so: you is one ;)) handles this:

  • If the answer truly is ‘that’s all I’m paying’, you have to make a decision:

–> If you desperately need the money for food, rent or medicine (re-read and understand the word desperate…that’s important here) then take the job and make sure your payment terms are cash on delivery (COD); waiting 60 or 90 days for such a low payment payment is a kick right in the “no-no” spot!

–> Otherwise I would politely decline and explain my rates for such a project are X (“I would love to do the project, but my rates for the project you described is X.”)

With that last sentence, you just began to negotiate.

I know, your blood pressure just spiked a bit reading all this and there is a slight ringing in your ears at the thought of negotiating. Settle down. It’s a part of the business and you need to be ready for it.

Notice, I didn’t say you needed to be perfect at it? It takes time to learn negotiating skills but being educated at the outset by knowing your rates and being able to discuss them (negotiate) is the best starting place. And it’s not hard. Truly.

Just remember this key rule in negotiations: you have to be willing to walk away from the deal.

You have to be willing to say no to a deal that is not beneficial to you. If you give that one element up in spirit or in deed, you will lose every negotiation and will be financially screwed the rest of your very short business life. That’s not a joke. I am not kidding. #truth

There are books and classes on negotiation so, if you want, start at the library or Barnes and Noble. Read a few chapters. It won’t kill you.

Maria Pendolino Voiceover Talent audioconnell

Professional Female Voiceover Talent Maria Pendolino

If books do give you hives, well, don’t become an audiobook narrator but do contact my friend Maria Pendolino who is now offering classes on VO negotiations. These classes are not free but they are worthwhile. See what she did there, knowing her market value? She makes people PAY fairly for what she knows. You need to have people pay you fairly for what you voice.

The initial business part of voiceover for EVERY TALENT should immediately focus you on setting up rates for your business. What will you charge? Every business of any size does this and so must every voiceover business.

There are variables in our particular business that impact how voiceover is priced. They include (but are not limited to):

  • Will the recording be broadcast (TV, radio, web — yes web is seen as a kind of broadcast now, but will be priced differently than radio and TV)
  • If it is broadcast, where will it play geographically (a local town, a city, a state, nationally, internationally?)
  • How long will it be broadcast? (A month, 3 months, a year, forever?)
  • Will the recording be non-broadcast (sales meeting videos, trade show videos, audiobooks)
  • Are the terms of the usage of the recording you are making for them very specific?
  • Or are you giving them use of the recording for anything down the road at no additional charge? (A radio spot could be used in a sales video or as part of a message on hold…the sales video and message on hold SHOULD be billed additionally – which is why you need to be clear on terms of usage

If you are kind of lost at square 1 (i.e. setting my voiceover rates), here are some resources to guide you on what you could charge.

Global Voice Acting Academy LogoA starting point for non-union talent (if you do not have a SAG-AFTRA union card, you are non-union) would be the Global Voice Acting Academy web site. The grids will help you break down the genre of voiceovers and what the average rate is.

If you wanted to see how Union talent charge, you can look at the SAG-AFTRA site. The published rates are the base rates and can be higher, but so too are the Union’s fees for membership, etc. It’s all above board and there’s value to being in the Union for some folks…just read all of it to have a full understanding of rates and fees.

You may ask…what about an agent? Can’t I just get an agent and let them do all the negotiations? You can hire an agent…but an agent has to want you as a talent. Are you there yet?

The bottom line is you need to be able to negotiate rates fairly on your own behalf and know your worth. It’s just that simple and there is no successful way around that business fact.

Remember just a few things about the service YOU offer:

  • If producers have come to you with a job offer, you have something they want that only you can provide...there ARE other voice talents but there is only one you and that is part of your value – you are like the super-fast motor on a brand new sports car or a beautiful new roof on an awesome house that no one needs to repair for 20 years!
  • You are licensing your voice (which, we’ve established, has a financial value to it) so in essence you are charging a licensing fee (based on all those areas I mentioned previously)
  • There is a minimum time requirement for someone to use your services – even if the length of the production is really short (for the aforementioned $50 for :60 second spot – the producer would be even more insulting if he said for a :30 second spot, I’ll pay you $25…. so meet your minimum fee to start with and THEN assess your final rate based on the other variable
  • And just a reminder, because you must believe this to succeed: you have value as a voice actor and that value should have a competitive price – that’s what you are establishing and negotiating

Maybe your hands are shaking a bit now, you feel a little sweaty too, but it’s not the flu…it’s reading all this rate setting and negotiation stuff.

Well, better you work all that out now that in front of a business prospect.

You are stronger and smarter than you think you are. To own your own successful business, you have to be.

Good luck!

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