As Actors’ SOUND ADVICE, we strongly encourage all non-union voice talent to apply some basic union policies and standards to their voiceover careers to achieve the best, most professional results in their careers.
For one, we want to encourage you to aim to become a union (SAG-AFTRA) voice talent, because the pay and working conditions are a dramatic improvement over remaining non-union or simply remaining an online “gig worker”. By applying a few union policies to your voiceover business you’ll achieve greater control and advancement of your career because doing so will improve your ability to deliver your best.
Here are a few industry standards and policies to commit to—to improve your bottom line, elevate your brand, instill confidence, and expand your voice acting business.
1. Even non-union rates are based on ‘union scale’.
“Scale” is the term that refers to the lowest rate of pay the union maintains for each form of usage and/or repurposing of your performance or likeness, on-camera or off. How ever your recorded voiceover is intended to be used or the ultimate use of the final audio, whichever is greater, is what you are inevitably owed for the project you voiced. (More on that in a moment.) Scale is the lowest rate both non-union and union talent should expect to receive. It’s the lowest possible going rate for the job, regardless of whether you’re just starting out or not.
The primary difference between union and non-union rates is residuals. Union talent receive residual pay in addition to session fees for voicing commercials and various broadcast projects for television, theatrical, streaming and their continued “re-usage”. Agents for non-union projects typically require a rate to attempt to partially compensate the talent they represent for extended use of the production, in lieu of receiving residuals, aka “resids”.
2. Secure representation with qualified talent agents.
Talent agents have access to work individual voice talent don’t have access to on their own, and agents afford you an average of 5-55 times greater income than voice talent are able to secure without the experience and an understanding of the industry talent agents offer, regardless of whether the voice talent is union or not.
Of course, agents specialize, just as talent do. To add to this, far too many talent assume agents should be expected to groom and develop their careers, when, in fact, agents require talent arrive on their doorstep already well-trained, well-produced with professional demos and fully prepared and available to work.
However, relying solely on a single talent agency as your sole source for employment as a voiceover isn’t a realistic approach if you hope to work with any regularity. (Learn more about how to secure representation with talent agents here.)
3. Always require 24-hour cancellation notice.
Should a client bail at the last minute prior to a confirmed recording session, then the client is responsible for covering your session fees, which for nonunion talent tends to average between $300 and $1,200 per project or more.
Charging for last-minute cancellations is standard practice for most businesses, and voiceover is no different. Otherwise, lost revenue for rearranging your schedule for the project, as well as your time and effort preparing to accommodate the project is inevitable. This is standard practice for most businesses, though the average gig worker doesn’t typically apply sensible business practices to themselves at their own peril.
4. Stay in your lane: You’re being hired to voice the project, not produce, write, cast, edit and engineer the job.
Don’t assume these skills should be expected of you as a nonunion voice talent and, worst of all, included in your rate. Quite the contrary!
Union talent are required to only voice the project, that’s all. Doing so keeps you focused on delivering your best performance, rather than dispersing your creative attention, especially considering the client’s branding is on the line here. That should be the primary goal.
Granted today all talent are required to offer clean, professional recordings and possibly a few, simple edits on your auditions as needed. However, if editing is not among your skills, don’t assume these services are needed and wanted from you. Don’t assume mixing and editing should be included in your already seriously low rate as a voice actor.
One of the greatest missteps ALL small business owners share when they’re first starting out is under-valuing, if not utterly de-valuing, what they’re worth.
The truth is potential customers rarely purchase the cheapest option when shopping to hire or buy. Instead, potential clients consistently choose the second most expensive option in case you were wondering. Ironically, most novice small business startups attempting to “appear competitive” by undercutting the lowest rate they can find. And yet this sort of pricing only inevitably serves to undermine your worth and can seal your fate from ever making a proper income in this field.
You’d be better served to concentrate your efforts primarily on voicing the job you’ve been hired to do rather than including production elements that are beyond your skill set.
Yet, probably the greatest small business misstep you’ll likely be encouraged (often from less than credible sources) is to offer more than you’re capable of delivering.
The best rule of thumb is to underpromise and overdeliver.
This is a common issue that’s not exclusive to voiceover, but present in practically every profession you can imagine. It became a common issue for voice talent that probably evolved out of “gig culture” instead of any real expertise or business acumen.
Your professional reputation and future booking potential with a respective producer will be undermined should you deliver poorly executed services.
Besides, claiming to be a producer places you in direct competition with your primary target audience as a voice talent, namely PRODUCERS.
Even if you happen to be a professional producer, you’re probably not being paid to include all those additional services, you’re only being paid as a voiceover. Unburden yourself and stay in your lane.
5. Don’t accept voice projects paid “in perpetuity”.
Non-union voice talent typically receive a flat rate for their work. However, it’s important to establish in advance how long the client may use your recorded performance for the pay. Determining the length of time the client is allowed to use the audio whether it be used just once, for 6-8 weeks, a single 13-week cycle, for six months, a year or possibly two years, inevitably falls to you to understand and hold the client to only continue to use your voiceover for a limited time or they will owe you an additional stipend, typically the same flat rate with a 10-25% increase with each renewal of use. Unless this is established in advance of the session you may be leaving money on the table.
Suffice it to say, you’re always entitled to be compensated for the added use and reuse of the original recording whether you’re union or not. It’s in your best interest to be paid for each repurposing of the recording, especially if your vocal branding becomes iconic, which many have been known to do.
6. Don’t assume your VO clients are more experienced than YOU when it comes to production.
You may not consider yourself all that experienced when it comes to recording and directing yourself as a voice actor. Don’t assume that whoever hired you understands production or knows how to articulate what they need and want from you during a recording session. Clients may offer very little, if any insight, and generally rely on the voice talent to come through with creative options that bring what may otherwise be considered rather dull, wooden text.
7. Telling yourself you can always raise the rate “later”, should tell you your rate is probably already undermining your worth.
Union rates determine the lowest rate (scale) you’re willing to accept as a professional voiceover. So, if, as a non-union talent you’re asked to offer a rate, be sure to determine your rate based on union scale, and then add no less than 25%. As a small business owner, you will always have overages you’ll need to cover. (Your demos, training, promotion, and home studio require continued upkeep, don’t forget.)
Even if a potential client doesn’t fully disclose their ultimate intentions for the use of the voiceover you supply to their project(s), include a standard policy (in the form of a brief sentence in your service agreement or email) that should your voiceover be repurposed in additional forms of usage, or conversely the audio isn’t used on all the forms of reuse that was initially anticipated, regardless you’re to be paid whichever rate is greater. The client may never use your voiceover in the end. Nevertheless, you did the work and you’re still entitled to be paid for your time, skill, and likeness.
8. YOU are the keeper of your conflicts.
The term “conflicts” refers to projects you’ve been paid to voice that are currently airing or are in use that you’re continuing to receive income from. Maintaining your conflicts is basically keeping track and avoiding any possible conflicts of interest that would have you essentially work for the competition.
For example, if you’ve recently voiced a commercial for Dell computers then you’d have a conflict and aren’t available to accept a commercial audition for Apple or HP (the competition) or anything dealing with computers other than Dell as long as the project is airing. Once the term of usage has expired, you’re released and free to audition and accept all manner of tech/computer projects from the (former) competition. (For what it’s worth, there are no conflicts in radio.)
The responsibility falls to you to maintain your conflicts. This is standard practice whether you’re union or not. You’re expected to keep track of the clients and projects you may have a conflict with, and you’re NOT to even audition for the competition while these jobs are active.
9. Supply a simple, one-page, universal service agreement for yourself.
If you feel you absolutely must pursue voice work on your own from some of the online sources, without the benefit of qualified talent agents, then we strongly suggest you create a basic service agreement for yourself. This way you’ll ensure you and those hiring you are on the same page as to:
a) Determine what you’ve been hired to deliver (including the formats the client requires)
b) Determine what you expect to be paid and how long the client can use your recorded likeness
c) Determine who you can expect to receive final approvals from
d) Determine who you’ll be expected to deliver the final audio to
e) Determine when the final product is required to be completed
Again, we strongly recommend you avoid trying to do everything yourself and leave these details to your talent agents whenever possible. It’s generally best to stay in your lane as a voice actor and concentrate on being the best voiceover you can be.
10. A good deal is only a good deal if it benefits for BOTH sides, not just one.
Far too many talent are quick to propitiate potential clients out of fear they may “lose the job” if they don’t appease every random wish and whim, often prior to understanding or anticipating the real demands and degrees of difficulty associated with completing the production.
Copyright © 2023 by Kate McClanaghan All Rights Reserved.