Over the past decade, I’ve watched the rates for voiceover, and frankly for all professional actors, take a massive dive well below anywhere they should be for this or any profession.

“The Great Repression” certainly had an averse influence on pay in every sector, and drove scores of talent, especially budding voice talent to find employment online. Happy to independently create an income within your field, and seemingly out-of-the-blue, booking gigs online answered a lot of prayers for a great many voice artists of every skill level. And while I had a great suspicion, I didn’t have the hard numbers to point the finger directly at Pay-to-Play (P2P) websites but they’ve clearly played a massive role in driving rates for voice talent to sub-basement levels, especially in recent years.

In the ‘80’s, when I was still in college (ugh, I said that out loud!), I voiced radio spots for two regular clients for the better part of four years to help pay my way through school. I was in Kalamazoo, Michigan, so a small market. And I didn’t have to record, edit, or God-forbid… write the spots I voiced, as many nonunion voice talent over-commit themselves into doing today. Some months I would voice 3 spots, some months nothing, but most of the time I voiced 5-10 at a rate of $150 per spot.

Fast forward to today, wouldn’t you think 30+ years later, projects like that would be worth more? If you said, “Yes” I happen to agree with you. You’re right. And the union (SAG-AFTRA), who has consistently established the standards that even nonunion work adheres to, does too. The job is worth more! Especially when you consider, the ‘usage’.

‘Usage’ is an industry term producers, casting directors, and talent agents use when determining your rate of pay for any given project. The very first element that must be determined is the projected usageof the piece. In other words, will your likeness (including your voice) be used as: a network television commercial, a local radio spot, a documentary, for Internet only, for trade show, for theatrical release (in movie theatres), corporate narrations, e-Learning, in-house use, and/or new media (such as ‘streaming’)?  Each of these forms of useimplies a value in terms of income for your work, no matter if the project is a flat-fee buyout, or subject to residuals. The length of the final production and the degree of difficulty for any given job is relative. However, the ultimate usage is not, it’s far more tangible.

My point is if the average rate for small market, radio only voiceover (that I didn’t have to record, edit or mix in any way) ran $150 per spot in the 1980’s… and it’s worth more now, why would you think doing “the first couple jobs for $25-$50” would ever be okay? It’s not.

In this industry, you’re either a professional or you’re not. But don’t assume the shallow end of the pool is equivalent to a shot glass. No matter how you cut it, that’s just bad business to deep-six your rate like that. It undermines your experience, skill and authority, regardless of how long or how little you’ve been pursuing this work.

Yet, scores of talent, who are often “just getting started”, lock themselves in the virtual basement when it comes to getting paid for their work, because they don’t know:

  1. How to get a proper talent agent who would likely afford them 5 to 55 times more than the individual talent would ever get on their own.
  2. What the project is truly worth, thinking they can “raise their rates at a later date”. To which I have to say, “Good luck with that!” Clients come to rely on the rate you initially gave them, which makes raising your rate incredibly difficult after the fact, especially if you unwittingly low-balled yourself often to the point of losing money.
  3. They are sometimes unwittingly agreeing to include various production options(such as recording, mixing and editing) all for a flat, sub-standard voiceover rate, typically out of fear of “losing the gig”. (Word to the wise: Clients rarely choose the cheapest rate on anything. That’s Business 101.)
  4. There’s likely to be more projects to voice in the future (often unbeknownst to the client when they first hire you). The client would have paid a proper rate to begin with had they been prepared for it in advance.

Your mission is to have a long and storied career. A career you can support yourself in, provided you don’t frustrate yourself into oblivion.

Bottom line: if you want your voiceover pay to improve I challenge you then, the next time you get a nonunion audition for a national brand, do yourself and every other voice talent a massive favor—Drop an anonymous dime on that job to SAG-AFTRA at (877) 280.6705. When national brands cast nonunion talent it’s very likely they are breaking legal agreements they have made with advertising agencies, the union, production and broadcasters, not to mention commitments to quality work standards that protect all talent and the opportunity to achieve a living wage for their work.

This is more than a challenge. This should be commitment all talent dedicate themselves to, regardless if you’re currently a union talent or ever hope to be. This is the only way we can effectively improve our situation, rather than accepting the sub-par status quo, or assuming someone else should do something about it.

If you intend to do valuable work, and hope to be valued for your skills and expertise, then you have to let SAG-AFTRA know who, where and how national brands are being done. It’s completely confidential. But they can’t help us, as professional actors, if we don’t stand up for ourselves from the start.

Want to know more? Check out www.sagaftra.org/AdsGoUnion #AdsGoUnion



Copyright © 2018 by Kate McClanaghan. All rights reserved.