We often hear some voice over artists complaining about the low rates they are sometimes offered. So, are we victims of vicious birds of prey on poor little defenceless game? Is it really too unfair?
We've all seen casting adverts with rates that no-one respecting our profession would dare offer. I've been offered national TV ads for €150. Yes, including usage rights, which were not even mentioned. These sessions, offered at rock-bottom rates and refused by self-respecting professionals, always end up being accepted by people who present themselves as professional voice-over actors. The result is invariably mediocre: it's obvious that if individuals, like vultures feeding on the remains of a rotting carcass that nobody else wants, sell themselves on price and not on talent, it's because they have little talent to sell.
Often, production companies that act in this way will find that their clients refuse to accept these pitiful recordings, and will have to call in a (real) professional to re-record, out of pocket because the professionals will charge them the real rate: the professional rate. Of course, poor interpretations are sometimes validated: sometimes you hear empty voice-overs, laboriously mumbling their script like a child learning to read, or using voice effects like a bad lawyer using his sleeve effects, and you wonder, how is it possible that this person has been chosen? Fortunately, it's quite rare, but it does happen.
What is a fair rate?
We also see a lot of requests for rates on social media professional groups, which is understandable, given the different types of rates: per session, per word count, per finished minute, per finished hour, exploitation rights, etc. for different sectors: TV spots, radio commercials, corporate videos, web spots (organic or sponsored), explainers, audio books, e-learning etc.
But if we're going to take up a trade, shouldn't we, like everyone else, not only have the talent for it and acquire the necessary skills to practise it, but also learn how it works, its codes, and educate ourselves about good practice, including the rates charged by professionals? I talk about this in my article 20 Tips To Get Ahead In Voice Over. There is an obvious correlation between the fact that many of us have difficulty drawing up a logical, coherent quote, and the fact that a few unscrupulous production companies seek to exploit this weakness.
Of course, people who complain about the low rates offered to them know that these are below the professional standard (otherwise they wouldn't be complaining!), but if we don't know precisely the value of the work required, how can we know how much lower the rate is?
If a client offers us a price, it's up to US to know whether it's right or not, and to accept or reject it. If a client asks us for our price, it's up to US to know what's relevant and to say to the client, my price is so much and it includes this and it excludes that: session, studio if we work from our private studio, de-rushing, cleaning and adjustment to the image if requested, exploitation rights if applicable... Serious clients appreciate the true value of our work.
Want to simplify your life?
It's simple: publish your rates. I publish mine - you'll find them on this page, where you'll find my voice over rate sheet. That way you won't have to respond to requests that are too low-key; only serious clients will contact you. I can understand the resistance to doing this: the fear of no longer being offered work. That's why a lot of people who sell themselves at the lowest price don't do it: it would scare off their only clients. But talented voice over artists don't drive customers away. In the working world, no-one respects someone who doesn't respect themselves: those who don't will be exploited for cheap jobs, and will often have trouble getting paid, because bad clients are also bad payers. And when casting is based on talent rather than rates, they won't even be considered.
In the UK, there is a union (Equity) which recommends rates (sometimes correct, sometimes... less correct, but that's another subject) for advertising and ADR, by reaching agreements with the various players in the sectors concerned (advertising agencies, production companies, voiceover agents, etc.). As a result, the profession is structured, voiceover agents and professional actors all offer more or less the same basic rate, and exploitation rights are defined according to the media, territory and duration covered. The schedule on the left is published by usefee.tv, validated by the UK actors union Equity (click on the image to enlarge).
In France, there's nothing, so it's a free-for-all. And don't tell me that it's been like that since the advent of voice over talent working from their own studios. I've been in the business since the 80s, first as a copywriter in an advertising agency and then as a voiceover artist since 1994, and I can tell you that it's been going on for much longer than that.
Of course, in an ideal world no one would seek to exploit uninformed professionals or people who lack the skills to demand rates that reflect the skills they lack, and all customers would know the rates in force. But we don't live in a carefree world: the real world is what it is. But that doesn't mean we should point the finger at these customers.
The overwhelming majority of production companies offer professional rates, and relatively few offer a tip as a fee to voice over talent. But even they are not responsible for us accepting these insultingly low rates. We have the choice to refuse. Of course, sometimes it's difficult, but we're not victims. If we accept inappropriate rates, it's not the fault of those who offer them, but collectively, it's our fault.
Finally, it's important to understand that working at too low a rate kills the business. Historically, pulling rates down has never been a good thing. And if you think you'll be able to adjust your rates as you gain more experience, think again: once you're in the 'cheap' drawer, you'll never make the transition to the 'quality' drawer. You can't change a first impression.
What's more, as I keep saying, we're not civil servants: seniority is irrelevant in our profession. If we're not capable of doing it at a professional level, we train. If we can do it, we have the same value as any other voice over actor, whatever their experience. This is a subject I develop in my article Hands Of The Loot. Respect yourself, don't sell yourself short, you're better than that.
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