Q It Up: Cheap Voiceovers - Right or Wrong?

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Q It Up: Cheap voiceovers: right or wrong? Have you dropped your voice-over rate to ridiculous lows just to get some business and stay in the game? Have you kept your rate on the higher end as a matter of principle or for other reasons? What are your thoughts on the state of the voiceover rate today? If you would like to respond to this month’s question, but would like to remain anonymous, simply say so in the beginning of your response, and we will keep your name, email and all other personal information unpublished and confidential.

John Pallarino [JPallarino[at]entercom.com]: From a business standpoint, I think there is a place for cheap voiceovers in the marketplace. You get what you pay for, and if somebody doesn’t have a huge budget and would like to get a voiceover, I feel there should be a place for them. The business is so competitive and everyone deserves the chance to get their foot in the door, and usually that means charging cheap rates to do it. My rates are never written in stone and are on a case by case basis. There are many factors that determine the rate, and yes, sometimes I will do a job for much less than I would normally charge in hopes of getting repeat business from them.

As far as the ‘state of the business’ today, I think it’s headed in a good direction, but I feel we need more ‘new raw talent’ trying to make their way up. I do get frustrated at times when people ask me how to get into the business because someone told them they have a good ‘radio voice.’ Usually I ask them if anyone willing to pay them has told them that.

Randy B. Moore [Randy.B.Moore[at]espn.com]: I’m not a voice talent… far from it, but do deal with a few on a daily basis. I will say this, just like most things in life, “you get what you pay for.” I have a top notch talent in New York. He’s creative, friendly, takes direction, friendly, shares ideas, looks for feedback, friendly, takes his time to get the reads just the way we want them, and did I mention he’s friendly? His female counterpart? Um… ditto! The kind of team I could see myself hanging out at Shea Stadium with. Now, I don’t know the final dollar amounts in his paycheck, but knowing he’s a BIG national talent and he works out of the #1 market, let’s just say he probably ain’t cheap and worth every penny.

 I also do freelance production at another station and deal with a VO talent that couldn’t... searching for the right word... searching... searching... SUCK... that’s it! Couldn’t SUCK more! This is a zero inflection, rip it and read it, let’s see how quick I can turn this page around reader that I’d like to see at Shea Stadium... the day they implode it! Twice my PD has come to me stating they were going to make a change in our station voice; I smile. But just like that, when word hits the talent, he drops his price and now he’s “better for the overall performance of the station.” I weep. Money changes everything... especially the bottom line. Oh, he dropped his rate? Well, we have to stay with him now! Ugh!

Like I said, you get what you pay for. Since my PD feels that minimum wage voice guy is best, I have to deal with the fact that our station will continue to sound like minimum wage, or at best, like the kid at the burger house drive thru. Your total is $8.70, please drive around.

 I’m just thankful that come Monday I get to play with the big boys and girls who know the value of a good piece of production starts with a good voice. No matter how much it costs.

Johnny George [jg[at]johnnygeorge.com], Johnny George Communications Inc.: Voiceovers? Sure. After I left radio, (or should I say, radio left me) my side company went from part-time to full-time right after that. But the effort became full-time, so the WORK could become full-time too.

With the advent of all the online services that have opened up the VO world to everyone with a mic and a computer, I maintain that you still get what you pay for. There’s plenty for everyone and not everyone is going to make the bigger bucks. Let some of the lower paying jobs there for them and scout out the good & great jobs. My rates are based on what the market will bear and what is fair to my clients. Sounds a bit generic, huh? I have found that anytime I have low-balled my rates, for whatever reason over the span of my career, (30+ years) I have had to babysit the client, do countless re-do’s, and spent more time than I should have reasonably been expected to spend.

Granted, many clients are worth the extra effort, and I’m not afraid to give that to them either.

In my humble opinion, how to base your rates is simple, and I’ve found this best way for me to prevent leaving money on the table.

1. Ask the client for full details of what they need recorded.

2. Where will this VO be played? Market size?

3. What media? (Radio, TV, Non-Broadcast, Web, MOH, etc.)

4. How long will this audio be played? Most non-union VOs are buyout.

5. Once you have all the information on the table, ask what they have budgeted for this job... then shut up. Let the quiet cause them to think carefully before answering and before you possibly give them a rate that is well below what they were going to suggest. The odds are in your favor if you handle this properly.

I have spoken with quite a few clients and talents who have told me these horrible stories where they have really left some serious money on the table by offering to do the work for a lower rate to get the business. Many clients, agencies and such are used to paying scale — a rate that has been determined by union guidelines to give everyone a starting point for basing their non-union rates. Remember, you are not paying into a union responsible for health, pensions and administrative costs of a organization. So be fair-minded. Granted, you too have to pay for your own health, your retirement, etc. (That’s another story)

Charge a respectable rate for your time. Charge a reasonable rate for your self-engineering (your studio). Your rate should reflect your experience, your talent, your time spent and what you know that particular market will bear.

It’s much easier to bargain DOWN, than to bargain UP. Once you set your rates low, you may have a hard time working those rates up, if your clients “brand” you as being a cheap VO person. Small pay, small jobs. You’ll also make your clients feel they are getting a better deal if you first state that you will do that TV job for $500 and then come back and say that you will discount it to establish yourself with this new client for $425 -- now, you’re the hero! After they hear how the spot sounds and like what they hear, you’ll have a much easier way of getting that $500 your next time.

Remember: your rates reflect you directly. If they are too low, you brand yourself as someone who most likely doesn’t have a clue of what the competitive market is paying. Too high a rate will reflect you must have a wealth of experience and you had better be not just good, but great! If you can get it and get it often enough… charge it! It ultimately helps set the standard for everyone.

Troy Duran [Troy[at]TroyDuran.com], The Right Voice, Right Now: Thanks for the question; it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Personally, I haven’t lowered my prices, but I don’t think they were ever really high to begin with. I don’t use agents. They’re bloodsuckers and artificially inflate prices. I feel pretty comfortable with my rates because they seem fair to both me and my clients.

I think that people searching for the lowest price for a voiceover though, miss the point. Like advertisers who buy a $25,000 schedule, but rely on anyone at the station to cut their spot just because it’s free. It’s like buying a Hummer and telling the salesperson “Oh, just throw in whatever engine you can find.” Maybe it’ll be a Duramax 6600, maybe it’ll be an inline six. Are you gonna argue logic with this kind of dope?

I’d rather deal with people who understand the importance of hiring just the right voice, because it has a lot to do with how effective each spot will be on the air.

I know cheap voicers really piss off a lot of people - especially if it’s someone who’s really good. That really doesn’t bother me though, because that’s one less competitor for me. If someone with a great voice, read and delivery chooses to place himself in the bargain bin as a $25 voice, I’m happy for the extra space around my stuff!

Pete Bunch [pete[at]spokenwordimages.com], Spoken Word Images, Inc.: Wrong. We used to call them “dollar a holler” jobs when I was in radio.

Folks who do VO for dirt cheap are doing a real disservice to our craft as a whole. When I say craft, I’m referring to “full-time, this is all I do to feed my family as a freelance VO talent and voice actor.”

Cheap job bids and marginal talent dilute an already crowded legitimate talent pool. These days, anyone with a computer and a mic who thinks they have a “good voice” just jumps right in.

Spoken Word Images, Inc. rates are billed at fair market value. Is it local, regional, national? Radio or TV? If the job is el-cheapo, we won’t even bid on it.

Talent: Never low-ball your services and it’s worth. Media buyers: You get what you pay for (and sometimes not).

Ralph Mitchell [RalphMitchell[at]clearchannel.com], Clear Channel, Mobile, Alabama: It’s very important to the voice over community that as professionals, we stand firm on reasonable rates. Undercutting only hurts the business because in time, the only people left IN the business would be amateurs. If all of the on-line voiceover sites ended up with nothing but low-priced amateurs, I believe that eventually, the voice-seekers would be forced to turn back to the traditional system of agents and studios in large markets.

Sometimes it may be hard to know exactly how to price your work if you’ve never been offered a national deal, or if you’re auditioning for v/o work you’ve never done before. But ask around and try to find out what the going rates are before you audition. Then price your work accordingly. The last time I checked, the price of gas (and everything else) was still going up, so charging less for our work just doesn’t make any sense.

 Anonymous: I think it’s wrong to go too cheap on voiceovers. It’s bad enough we give away local radio voiceover and production work for “free”, so please don’t further devalue our business by being a discount voiceover. If you offer a reasonable price, most clients will have no problem paying. Those that pass, fine... you probably don’t want to deal with them anyway. You don’t have to go full-union, national double scale rates, but at least make it worth your while. What is your time worth? Sometimes they surprise you and actually go higher than you thought they might. Good luck everybody!

John Pellegrini [pellegrinijohn[at]gmail.com]: This is a topic that has always concerned me. It’s a combination of factors - too many people with a home computer and a microphone think they can do voiceover with no experience, and they’re charging ten or twenty bucks for a script. Also, too many businesses put costs ahead of quality. I won’t work with companies like that and neither should anyone else.

My friend who does websites for a living is facing similar problems — too many high school kids willing to build a website for ten or twenty bucks, and too many business owners who think that’s just fine. Whenever someone tells him that they won’t pay what he charges, he tells them, “Good. Have fun with the cheaper people.” Why? Because he knows that the ones who charge next to nothing produce next to nothing. He’s checked up on several of those businesses who wanted him to work for less and none of them have websites up… years later. Or they have lousy websites that do nothing for them.

Refusing to compromise is the only solution. Business owners who nickel and dime everything will ultimately fail. They’re the ones who never keep their word, break every deal in favor of a lower price, and make you work five times as hard to get less and less every time. They’re also the ones who treat their customers poorly and lose business every year. Business owners who are professional and have a realistic outlook on the future will not do that. Invest your time and efforts with them because they’re the ones who will keep their word and appreciate your efforts... the way it’s supposed to be.

Roy Hall [info[at]royhall.com],royhall.com, Ireland: I think it goes both ways — people starting out need experience so their prices are cheaper; the more experienced charge more but need to because they’re in demand more, have less time on their hands, and for me, most importantly, they get the read right first time in most cases. That’s not to say the new kids on the block don’t blow me away sometimes with their take on some work.

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