When asked by someone outside of the industry how much I’m compensated for a commercial voice-over, I can see their eyes grow large with excitement. It may sound like a large number for two or three hours of studio time, but what is not understood is the investment in time, money and education that it takes to begin and sustain a voice acting career. As voice-over professionals, we need to remember (especially if we are setting our own rates) that the time we have spent in classes, coaching sessions, and our booth add up to our expertise in this field. When setting your own voice-over rates, or negotiating those set by producers and/or clients, you need to not only consider your session fee (the time spent in the booth recording the specific copy), but also all the training you’ve acquired and the investment in your home studio (which helps make your client’s job much easier).
At the end of the day, we all need to have a baseline of what is an acceptable pay rate and what you may need to walk away from politely. This is a competitive market and when you have put in the training, financial investment, technical education in perfecting your studio sound, and countless hours practicing in the booth you must advocate for yourself and know your worth! If you have any questions, reach out to the SAV community. We’re here to be stronger together as you move through your voice acting career!
"We recorded two or three takes of each story, and within those takes there were some pick‑ups [overdubs] for certain lines. When I was editing, I used takes that gave the best delivery, had the least movement or other noise, and provided the most provoking images. In some cases [we used] the first take. Sometimes, after saying a line over and over, one starts to lose the meaning of the line. Pick‑ups should go back to the top of the sentence, making editing much easier.”
It’s equally important to realize that when you join a union, you pledge to no longer accept non-union work. The reason for this is solidarity: you stand together with your fellow members so that you can negotiate better working conditions and pay for all of you as a collective. It’s worth noting, however, that a union in any given country only functions within the borders of that country and not beyond them.
As the engineer, your key job is to select and set up the recording space, choose and position the microphone, set levels and make sure you're recording a good, clean signal at a healthy level. Like music, the louder the signal you want to record, the less audible the noise floor, but you don't want to have to speak louder than sounds natural, and you don't want to overcook things when tracking: any distortion will be very noticeable on an exposed voice part, and an otherwise great take with digital clipping won't be acceptable. If you notice clipping only when you start editing, software clip restoration tools might help to make the take usable, but it's not going to be perfect. Remember that although you may have needed to record 'hot' on analogue tape and older 16‑bit digital recording systems, modern 24‑bit A‑D converters can accommodate a much wider dynamic range, so you no longer have to track so loud: you can leave much more headroom.
One of the most important rules is to ensure you value yourself as a professional. If you undervalue your own service it can be hard to later charge for the correct rates. A professional voice-over should cost a minimum amount, even if you’re new. If you allow clients to low-ball your work from the outset it will continue to set the expectation that they can get a voiceover from you on the cheap. This can then mean the difference between making a living and paying bills or not.
Perhaps you come from a corporate business background, but you have a remarkable capacity for accents and original character voices, or you’ve been in radio and broadcasting for a number of years. If you’re an actor looking to expand your employment opportunities, mastering voiceover is imperative considering it’s required in every manner of recorded media: film, TV, animation, games, corporate industrials, and commercials. Whatever your specific experience has been to date, getting started in voiceover most often requires the following:
“Bunny Studio Voice has a very efficient process to help us identify the right voice actors that best meet each of our video’s needs. Their platform keeps us informed throughout the process, from the actor accepting the project all the way through when the recording is complete. I highly recommend them as a reliable, high quality and cost-effective voice over provider”
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Always update yourself on industry standard rates. I recommend reviewing the union rates set forth by SAG-AFTRA. Voices.com also offers a rate card as well Voice-Over Resource Guide. Upon viewing these rates you may find, based on your current experience, you fall a little lower or higher than said rates. Maybe you have a great deal of experience in the commercial voice-over world, but now you’re branching out into narration, e-learning or audiobooks, so your voice-over rates may be a bit lower for that genre as you find your footing. The most important thing is that you have a baseline rate for yourself and you’re comfortable and confident stating this rate to a client. It’s beneficial to first ask your client’s budget and proceed from there. While stating your rate, also take into consideration edits and pick-ups. It’s customary to include one free round of edits in your rate, but any edits or pick-ups past that incur a fee.
While having a broad set of voice skills is beneficial, many voice overs establish themselves in commercials and more general corporate voiceover work before specialising. Having a niche or specialist focus though can make a difference in earning potential. So, bearing in mind the question: how much money do a voice actors make, will also depend on the level and experience in a given niche e.g. animation, audiobooks or gaming.
1. You need to get oriented with the industry. You need an education in this business prior to investing in it—especially if you hope to be valuable as a voiceover talent. You need to understand who your core clients would be and who you would eventually create a voiceover demo for, namely, producers. If you’re not servicing them, then you’re not servicing your self. This is precisely why I wrote, “The SOUND ADVICE Encyclopedia of Voiceover & The Business of Being a Working Talent.” You need insight as to what’s needed and wanted of you in this field, and how professional sessions are run, otherwise you’ll likely frustrate yourself with unrealistic expectations.
At this point — unless you're tracking for broadcast applications (where they don't work to peak levels) — consider 'normalising' your recording to an optimal level. Normalisation can be used to push the loudest peak to around ‑1dB and increase the volume of the entire recording by the same ratio. Of course, you can also tighten up dynamic range (the difference between the softest and loudest parts of your recording) by manually reducing the loudest sections of the recording before you apply normalisation. On a final note, if you do plan to use a compressor, then you might as well add gain at that stage instead of normalising.