the moral of the voiceover story

audioconnell ethics in voiceoverOne of the many panel discussions that took place at VO Atlanta talked about Ethics in Voiceover. Fortunately, the discussion was not entitled “In Search of Ethics in Voiceover”.

That would have been sad.

Overall, ethics-wise, I think the voiceover industry does pretty well. Maybe an 80-85 out of 100.

Ethics is defined, as you probably know, as being the moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.

We all have ethics and morals but differing degrees of each.

I did not attend that session because I was doing something else so I cannot give a fair (or really any) representation of the discussion.  Those who did attend seemed to enjoy it.

One of the panelists during that particular session is a voice talent I have been friendly with for a number of years and who is also a fellow blogger, Paul Strikwerda. According to his published statistics, his blog is much more widely read than mine.

Here, I just have you and me, while Paul’s blog is read by thousands. Can’t say as I blame the readers because I’ve read my stuff. Just long winded pablum here 🙂 .

So Paul wrote about his experience at VO Atlanta on his blog and also about his answers during the Ethics Panel he was a part of. Having read his responses on the blog, I do not take exception to any of his answers because his answers about ethics come from his perspective and they are his way to approach his business. We all do this individually in every line of work – which is precisely what makes such a public discussion tricky, in MY opinion.

But the one question from the panel that Paul highlighted in his blog (I believe he was asked the question, he did not ask it himself) elicited from me a response different from Paul’s.

Two people, two perspectives, each right within their own views. Your milage may vary. Consult your doctor before taking any medications.

The question was:

Do voice talent have an obligation to consider the impact of their pricing on the greater voiceover industry?

Paul’s full answer to the panelist’s question can be found here, but in short, his answer is yes, talent do have an obligation to consider the impact of their pricing on the greater industry.

Peter’s full answer to the question can be found below, but in short, his answer is no, talent do not have an obligation to consider the impact of their pricing on the greater industry.

Full disclosure: if you asked ’15-20 years ago Peter’ the answer to this question, I would have said ‘yup, they do…no low balling ever, hurts all of us! End of story.’ I might have even stomped my foot or harrumphed! Possibly both.

‘Today Peter’ still believes that that lowballing is a lose-lose tactic. It’s a poor business tactic that to me shows desperation, a horrible lack of self worth and undermines the low bidder’s professionalism (both real and perceived). So I don’t do it and I don’t think others should either.

I’ve said so many times, in many forums. Again, sometimes with a harrumph!

But in this panel discussion, the question focused on whether there is an ethical obligation to consider your fellow voice professionals when crafting your own pricing.

From a competitive and business standpoint? Sure.

From a moral stand point, no.

All low-ballers are not unscrupulous opportunists. I know this because I’ve met some of them, spoken with them and heard their stories. One would be unfair, unkind and unprofessional to paint these folks that I’ve met with a broad brush stroke of being sleazy or something worse.

But I would generally categorize these low ballers as often (but not always) being desperate, somewhat ignorant regarding business and most surely lacking professional confidence. Those that I have met are guilty on all three counts. Do their actions hurt our industry? Yup.

But what are their reasons for their low rates? Let’s look at that for a moment.

Of the three categories above, I’d like to focus on desperate. Specifically, I mean financially desperate.

Whether it’s to make a mortgage payment, a car payment or just put food on the table, many of the low-ballers in voiceover that I have met don’t have much money and aren’t sure how to make it. They cannot listen to nor hear a discussion about fair pricing in VO because they have significant money issues as well as an unceasing fear throbbing in their head that drowns out the discussion.

For better or worse, that is their life situation. They are in survival mode, sometimes barely survival mode.

Now, the harder edged me of some years ago would have told them ‘then maybe VO isn’t for you and get out of the business’ or at least get a second job! But watching and listening, I see how edicts and absolutes don’t fit each and everybody.

So am I to stand on a rock looking down on these low-baller folks with a pointed finger and a booming voice, questioning their moral responsibility to their fellow voice actors about pricing if they can’t feed their kids because they lost a job by charging $50 more, just so it fell in line with industry standards? Short answer: no.

Regarding the above statement, I will add here, lest you think I’m being accusatory, I do not believe Paul or many others would answer yes. In addition to the individual perspectives that I mentioned earlier, there are always individual situations. That’s why ethics and morality are necessary but they are soooo tricky. You gotta look case by case.

Yes there ARE really sleazy individuals and companies in voiceover who undermine our professional standards, including rates. Those folks need to be publicly and frequently called out for their unprofessional behavior. Bang the drum, hand me a drum stick!

But I cannot personally exclaim a universal moral decree that every voice talent must think of others (and fall in line) when crafting their pricing structure. If you need that, join a union, which is built on a national rate card! That’s a real benefit.

My point is not every low baller is “a bad guy”.  And beyond that, there are no simple or absolute answers.

6 Responses to “the moral of the voiceover story”

  1. […] The inimitable Peter O’Connell has penned a response to this post. Click here to read […]

  2. Hi Peter. Great feedback to Paul’s blog (how I found this one)! I have to admit, I’m still confused. Paul got me thinking back when he first posted his response to this panel and now you have me thinking harder. I’m still pretty new to the industry, I’ve only been active with voicework for a year or so. What began as a hobby has now started to blossom into what I think could become a career, but it’s all baby steps at this point. How to price my work has always been a concern, something I continue to find myself at sea with. I understand how pricing lower could negatively impact other VAs and I certainly don’t want or need to do that, but I’d also feel bad charging someone more than I was worth, being that I’m still fairly inexperienced. I wouldn’t think it apropos to charge at the same rate as someone who’s been doing this for years, has professional training, etc. I would love to talk with someone who knows more about this and might be able to help with a frame of reference. If you’d be willing to counsel me in this a bit more, I’d love to chat via email (if you can see it here). I would just like to positively contribute rather than unknowingly harm others. Again, awesome blog and feedback. I always love meeting new people in voice over.

  3. Hi Michelle,

    Congratulations on your success so far. The best advice I can offer on pricing is to be confident in your worth. Sometimes that’s hard (confidence eludes all of us VO’s on occasion).

    Comparing your pricing to other VO’s can mess with your head sometimes. What you think is right may be higher or lower than some industry standards. In such a case, I would advise you to step back and ask yourself some questions:

    – Are these fees YOU are comfortable charging? You have a number reasons to charge the fees you do — so do you feel you offer a fair wage for YOU to meet YOUR financial goals?

    – Are you booking clients with the fees you are charging? If you’re getting more no’s than yes’s after quoting a job, you’re pricing may be off. BUT if you see your pricing (that IS getting you gigs) is like $50 or $100 less than standards — it might be worth bringing your fees up a bit, either to meet standards OR at least closer to standards; simply it might be time for a normal increase. How much you increase is again up to you. Don’t overthink it. Go with your gut.

    – Sometimes it’s just a matter of negotiation. For example, my friend Bob Souer came up with a great line when quoting new clients: “How much can you pay me and still feel like you’re getting a good deal?” It’s a great question because you will not have backed yourself into a corner with a quote that is lower than the client would have been been willing to pay. Plus, if the answer from the client is lower than your normal fee, you can counter. If the client agrees, great, if not you should WALK A-WAY! Never sell yourself short for some imaginary future gig.

    – Please don’t focus primarily on others when setting your rates. Comparing to gauge from a competitive stand point is fine. Focus on what you need to make and don’t be shy about asking the wage you deserve. You ARE worth it.

    Hope that helps.

    Best always,

  4. Love this blog, Peter! I appreciate your fresh and compassionate perspective on this topic. I sometimes grow weary of all the “universal moral decree” conversations. You are right…sometimes there are no simple or absolute answers.
    Many thanks,
    ~ Amyjoy Warner ~

  5. Hi Amyjoy,

    I grow tired of those “universal moral decrees” too, especially the ones I’ve proclaimed!! 🙂

    Some days I have ALL the answers. 😉

    Best of luck on your VO journey.

    Best always,


  6. In the unregulated world of voice-overs, anyone can do anything he or she believes to be ethical and appropriate. We can’t force people to think about the big picture, or about the ripple effect small decisions have on the larger whole. What we can do, is discuss these issues in public, in the hopes they’ll appear on people’s radar screen. Thanks for helping me do that, Peter!

    In response to your blog post I want to make a distinction between intention, behavior, and results. History has taught us that people with the best of intentions can and will resort to less than ideal behavior in order to advance their own agenda. That’s what lowballers do, in my opinion.

    Their intention is positive: they want to break into the business, make some money, and provide for their families. They (mistakenly) believe that charging low rates will get them a place at the big table. The end result is that clients take notice, and lower their budgets. Even big brands are going non-union these days, because they feel they can get a better deal.

    Does that make all lowballers “bad guys”?

    One of my life philosophies is that people are not their behavior. Their behavior is but the tip of an ice berg. It’s what most of us observe and judge, not knowing what goes on, underneath the surface. I can respect the positive intention behind the behavior, and not agree with the behavior itself.

    As a coach and blogger, I want to explore ways in which to honor the positive intention (providing for the family), by suggesting more appropriate behavior (charging fair rates). In that scenario, the aspiring voice-over wins, and the community wins.

    So, rather than labeling people, I analyze their behavior to see how effective it is in reaching a specific goal. If it’s not getting them closer to that goal, I offer suggestions to help them reach their objective. That’s one of the reasons why I blog and coach.

    I find this much more effective than playing the blame and shame game which almost always puts people on the defense. At the same time I won’t hesitate to call out those who meet a desperate need with boundless greed.

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