In late 2009, my wife Simone received an email from Prague in the Czech Republic. The sender, Mirek Jirku, was heading up a project to record voice messages for the foreign‑language versions of the latest Avast! anti‑virus software. Mirek sent us eight messages to be recorded, specified the fee and deadline, and requested a slow, friendly read. He asked us to send separate stereo MP3 files (at 160kbps or higher quality) for each message, specified that we'd have to sign a non‑disclosure agreement before recording, that we'd need to invoice afterwards, and that he'd pay via a wire transfer instead of PayPal (which is often used for international payments).
Why the difference in approach? Lots of my e‑learning and corporate jobs are done for production houses that will be adding other voices to the mix. Ironically, if I record my voice via a great mic and preamp, and add some nice processing, it can end up standing out from the other voices, drawing attention to itself. The production house will see this as me causing them a problem, even though my recording sounds better than the others!
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.
Always keep it professional. A client may not have a budget that works within your rates presently, but one day they may have a project with a much larger budget and think of you as the talent to circle back to! It never hurts to politely decline when a project has too low of a rate and exclaim, “I would love to work with you in the future when our rates align!”
3. You need a simple, reliable, home-recording setup. Keep in mind: Your objective is on being the best voice talent you can be, not the best production studio or recording engineer. Nevertheless, you do need the ability to record, edit, and turnaround a proper audition. Do not run out and purchase a mic! You can’t return it, for hygienic reasons. Besides, there’s a bit of a learning curve to this and recent industry advances have made having a home “studio” easier and more affordable than ever before. You could have the best gear and the coolest toys on the block, but if you can’t use them it’s a waste. (Tip: What you’re recording on matters less than where you’re recording. Find a quiet place like a closet full of clothes to record in.)
No place is totally silent, so find the best place you can — even if that means thinking outside the box. I have a friend who regularly records his podcast in his car. He lives in a small house with dogs and kids, so there really isn’t anywhere else quiet enough. He takes his laptop and mic out to his driveway, shuts himself in the car and records. The results are surprisingly good!
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.
It's a good idea to record with one ear free from your headphones, as this helps you to deliver a more natural performance.When recording solo, I find the role of director the hardest to play. How can you lose yourself in the moment if you're on the lookout for mistakes? If you stop each time you mispronounce a word or use the wrong intonation, your spoken‑word recording will sound choppy and unnatural. It's for this reason that I like to record each job twice. The first time, I push the director out of the room and focus on the message. If possible, I even let the soundtrack of the video I'm narrating play quietly in my headphones, and I don't stop for mistakes any more than I would if I were telling a story to a friend. During the second take, I let the director back into the room, to make sure I pronounce everything correctly and emphasise the correct information — though I still try to keep the performance honest and natural.
If a client likes your demo, they may invite you to audition. In the 21st century, you can download the audition script, record the audition at home, and then send the results to your client over the Internet. Prepare yourself for a life of constant auditions: Even successful voice pros may do many more auditions than actual jobs. But if enough jobs come your way, it's worth it.
"Ideally the talent should be seated, staying on axis, approximately a foot away from the mic, which should be angled back from the face a bit, not parallel to it. You'll need to see what angle provides the best results, usually a few degrees off from parallel works great — and located between the forehead and the nose, not directly in line with the mouth. This will help with plosives, mouth noise, and some other issues. Movement in the booth should be limited, as the microphone is likely to pick up arms flailing, hands rubbing, page turns, stomach growling, and so on. Keep the levels consistent, moving closer if the scene calls for a whisper, or moving back for a loud voice or scream. A well‑versed narrator is capable of delivering a dynamic performance without creating dynamic levels.”
Another factor to consider is how the project is being used and in which medium. If you record a commercial that’s airing nationally on television, then that is a larger rate than a regional television commercial specific to a certain market. The voice-over spot you worked on is being seen by more viewers nationally as opposed to regionally, which warrants more compensation. You should not only consider your session fee, but also get the specifics on how the voice-over is being used. My personal opinion is to avoid “in perpetuity” usage because as your career develops, something which was not a conflict in the past could be in the future. If the spot you had conflicts with another brand in which you are auditioning, this could become a conflict that was unforeseen when you initially booked and recorded the job.
Voice actors get paid on a per project or per job basis. Your earnings as a voice actor range from: $35 for a small market radio spot, $150 for a 15 second recording for say a small website, $250 – $350 for a 30 second major market radio commercial (Plus use fees) to about $2000 – $5000 per audiobook, as an established voice talent. There are several ways to calculate how much voice actors get paid, with the most common being the word count of the script. The use of the material is also taken into consideration and whether or not you are granting a license to use your material for a specific duration on specific channels or if you are seeking a fee for a universal buyout.
"The editing process for all our titles starts with receiving the Pro Tools sessions or WAV files and the engineer's script, which has the markings of how many takes there were, and which ones the director liked best. In some cases, I use Strip Silence and add a bed of room tone to expedite the assembly edit. In others I'll add the room tone as I move through the audio. Once I had all the final takes to be used in [Favorite African Folk Tales], I went back to do a fine‑edit pass and created notes on any issues, such as misreads, mispronunciations, noises, and so on. With that list, I was able to discuss with Alfre how we would address the issues. Since the actors' schedules did not permit them to come back in to do pick‑ups I had to do some creative editing.”
This guide is designed to give you an insight into this hidden world and provide you with enough information to help you make an informed choice on whether or not this is a potential career for you. If you already are a voice actor, we will be giving you some tips and ideas to help you improve your voice acting skills to help you experience a dramatic difference in how you approach the written word.
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!