Q It Up: Should there be a unified rate card for voiceover work?

Q-It-Up-Logo-4Q It Up: Should there be a unified rate card for voiceover work? Obviously this would not pertain to that small percentage that commands top dollar, but what about for the rest? Explain your position and feel free to add any other comments on the subject!

Mitch Todd, Sirius/XM, New York: I have a two letter response “Ha”!

Too much of a “talent glut” IMHO. Many reasonably talented people sell their services on Fiverr.com (albeit often for more than $5.00). There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but it’s basically supply and demand… with the advantage at the moment going to those who demand!

Rafe Sampson, Sampson Media, Inc.: Wow, is that a can of worms. “Should” there be? In an idealistic world, many would probably say yes. Fairness to all, and all that. In the realistic, and capitalistic world we live in? No. The market will set the rates. And that can be a problem in this industry. Every Tom, Dick and Mona that a) has worked somewhere, in some capacity, behind or near a microphone, or b) has been told they have a nice voice, or c) thinks this is an easy gig with tremendous riches available, is buying a USB mic and calling themselves a VOA. The pure numbers dilute the market and lower the rate. So many people want to do this, apparently, that they’re willing to work for less.

There are varying degrees of talent and ability in the VO world, from the top-dollar fellows to the ill-trained or prepared newbie. There are varying audiences/market sizes for the produced work. So I don’t think a unified rate card for the entire VO industry would work any more than a unified rate card for all radio stations, even within one market.

Andrew Frame, BAFSoundWorks: If all things were equal, yes, a unified card would be going along with that kind of market dynamic. But, the market isn't equal - or equitable.

On one side of the microphone, some customers have large pocketbooks and others have small ones. They need to be priced according to their ability.

On the other side of the microphone, a voiceover from a rural disc jockey is not going to be as in demand as a more experienced talent. They need to be priced according to the demand of the product.

A good production house is going to have a range of people on the call list from rookie to veteran. And they are going to seek a range of clients from mom-and-pop to multi-national corporation. Then, they match up voice to customer and it's a win for all sides.

I do have a rate card to use. I make it clear that the rates are negotiable if there is a good reason for them to be negotiable. When asked for a quote, I ask myself, "what will the market bear?"

A rate card is a terrific baseline. But it's by no means the final word.

Lar Wright: A unified rate card used to exist in Ireland. It was done away with due to anti-competition legislation. It was deemed to be price fixing. Certain voice agencies still operate a similar rate card system, but prices vary from agency to agency, rather than union member’s rate card as it was before. Not sure how other territories would tackle the competition element of legislation if they exist. As a sole producer, lower rates mean better business for me, but for VO guys, it seems to be a race to the bottom to get the work.

Ross Huguet, Voice Talent: As with any Industry, the market will determine price based on supply and demand. Each Voice Talent has the opportunity to negotiate what works best between them and the customer taking into consideration their own perceived value and the budget limitations for each project. There are already many 'rate cards' online that can be referred to as guidelines, but in the end it boils down to negotiation. The question: "What budget is available for this project?" typically gets the ball rolling... the rest is a careful dance.

Ben Thorgeirson, www.benthorgeirson.com: If we're taking the top voice talents out of the mix, I would absolutely love to see that! There would be more competition as deals would only rely on the quality of the talent. People could stop driving down the value of someone's voice.

Johnny George: The timing of your Q It Up is excellent. This has been a major topic recently in the VO Community. We all have our own idea of what the market will bear, but perhaps some of the less experienced and confident VO people have given in to lesser rates, which upsets the rates for everyone and spoils the market with illegitimate rates. So a survey over the past several years by well-known Voice Actor, Sean Caldwell, from Tampa, was conducted to get a better idea of how the legit rates stack up. See info on Sean’s site: SeanCaldwell.com/rates (used by permission).

This is not the last word on rates, but is a far better visual indicator of what the top & bottom tiers should be. Sharing this information is good for all of us trying to make a living and an education for both sides of the recording window. A rising tide raises all boats. Do your part to not undersell your abilities. It’s easier to adjust your rates slightly to accommodate a good client. But if your rates start in the basement, they are so much harder to raise to a decent wage.

Ralph Mitchell, Production Director, iHeartMedia: Having a unified rate card for voiceover work would -- in my opinion -- be like a car dealership charging the same amount for every car -- except, of course the "small percentage that commands top dollar". So who would decide which voices fall into that category? The people getting paid less? The end-user? It seems to me that if the end user is making that decision, then why not keep the free market we already enjoy. I've seen the results of industry survey's which itemize the average and the median rates - broken down into type of work (:30 spot vs. long form narration, for instance). I find such a survey very helpful in setting my rates - especially when I get work that I'm not often involved in. But a unified rate would mean an absolute end to new people just getting started, and would likely cause many veterans to quit - because the rate card would most assuredly not be enough for most of them. Having someone else set rates for us would wreck the voiceover industry.

George Johnson: I would be against a unified rate card. Free agency works well for Pro Athletes and Stage & Screen Actors. As an Independent Contractor, we should be allowed the same latitude to negotiate any deals that will benefit, and balance our economics, with that of the client and size of market. I would rather do a lot of small dollar projects, than one or two big dollar sessions. That way I can remain relevant and affordable in a very competitive marketplace. Just because you're inexpensive, doesn't mean you're not good.

Bob Webb: It would be nice to have a standard rate card for standard VOs ,but what do you in the case of a standard or above standard VO talent who has an unlimited VO package, as in the one I use?

Rate card means nothing to a client like me.

Joshua Mackey, www.MackeyVoiceTalent.com: A unified rate card for voiceover would, in my opinion, be similar to a unified rate card for actors, or doctors, or plumbers, or consultants, or... You get my point. While the concept has SOME potential for being a positive thing in terms of consistency and knowing what to expect (for both the client and the talent), implementing such a thing would be impossible.  <begin sarcasm font> And frankly, it would take all the fun out of the hours I spend every week writing proposals and negotiating project rates.  <end sarcasm font>

In a business that has no easily-quantifiable "product", negotiating rates and being flexible allows for clients and talent to come together where they might otherwise not. Whether the rate is based on the client's budget, the reach of the spot, the usage, the talent's availability, or the way the sunlight reflects off the lake's blue-green water at 2:22 pm every other Tuesday, rates will always need to be negotiated, and all parties involved will need to stay (at least somewhat) flexible to be successful.

In my opinion, the way in which voiceover is used, where voiceover is used, and the amount of content that's being created, to me, disallows the possibility of a unified rate card.

SHOULD a unified rate card be created? I don't think so. CAN a unified rate card be created? Probably not.

GL Williams: Many clients are not paying people what they are worth or dumping them for people who will charge less and do more volume. This is just the way it is in sales, up the quota and lower the commission and good salespeople eventually get squeezed out in favour of people who will be cheaper.

Cheaper in every respect I suspect. Sure some are just as good, but what happens when cost cutting happens to a wage? We have entire industries or job types disappearing in favour of the new way of doing things. I knew men who raised families being milkmen, sweeping up street cars overnight, and other jobs that were considered redundant or too expensive.

Now senior citizens must take a trip to the store and deal with heavier groceries because liquid weight is heavier, even though those glass bottles have gone in favour of plastic ones some years ago. Homes may be a bit safer because there isn't a milk chute like we had. But you could not get into ours without falling down the rest of the steps into the basement. The point could be made, less home invasions just the same though.

We are trenched up behind our secured housing with an alarm system that also puts on the coffee. We feel entitled. Clients who may or may not own milk-boxes probably have not seen a milkman and did not sit in a car at an old dairy that took their trucks off the road wondering what is next. Those trucks were a usual site in my neighbourhood.

This gets deeper into labour relations (yes I am spelling things right; I am a Canadian). I think it also goes deeper into who we are as people. Business simply seems to want to thrive on being nasty about how they cut corners and raise profits. It’s a brag at the club.

If the business is not doing so well, that’s another matter. I once had a boss tell me because sales targets were not met he was operating at a loss. Didn't see the books on that one though. I knew the orders I put through generated enough to pay for my desk and the desk of my counterpart.

It’s twisted and self-serving to do things like that. We work with our clients at arm’s length and at a distance, usually from our home. Some of these people could be operating out of a shed at the zoo. We don't know. If they buy a product from us and return it after the best before date and ask for their money back, should there be this demand in addition to lowering the rate of what we do?

Economic pressure is a part of everything. A rate card would only solve it with clients that would have the honesty, morality and ability to play fair. We laud people like WalMart who really put the screws to suppliers and pay them lower than ever.

Should there be a rate card? Yes and we should bring back the working class while we are at it and have milkmen, janitors and may other classes of jobs that has gone away. Detroit should start making automobiles again and charge a fair rate for them. We should be able to count on jobs, wages, and situations without having the carpet pulled out from under us.

We should have a rate card. But will it happen? Probably they will do the horrible thing of using vocoder software to type in their projects and brag to their counterparts how much better it is.

Let’s hope I am wrong.

Earl McLean: I don't think there should be, as the quality of talent and production services vary, and so the rates should be reflective of that.

Dave Savage, Vice President | Creative Services Group, iHeartMedia: No. First off, who are the people who command “top dollar”? When I was a board-op, that would be somebody who gets $150 for a VO. At this point in my career, that’s somebody who gets $1,000 per read. So let’s just say it’s $1k for top dollar and the unified rate card is $200. Do you only get $200 for a long time until you can command top dollar? A person should be paid what the client is willing to pay for that person’s service. As you get better your rate will go up. I know there will be responses to this question saying “nobody should ever do a VO for less than $XX.XX” and I don’t agree with that. If I’m a client and have to pay $XX.XX for my VO, and I get somebody who’s only getting on average $75, I’m going to feel ripped off. A client should pay what they feel it’s worth, and if that’s not enough for the talent they want then it won’t happen.

Steve Mitchell: Maybe 8 or 10 years ago, but not today. With the advent of smaller market stations contacting indie voice people such as myself to be their "production department", a rate card is not necessary. Any regional or national works' payment is set by the agency anyway.

Mike Hansen: I would say a Unified rate card is good to start. The only downfall can be, you've just laid all your cards on the table and could be leaving money on it as well.

Ashley Bard, www.ashleybard.co.uk: In the UK we do have an Equity Rate Card which is used as a basic guide as part of a union, but not many Voice Over Artists are a part of it anymore, therefore it has become quite redundant.

However, there is a set fee made each year, and whoever is a member of the Union can demand that fee. It can work in your favour when up against the big companies trying to pay a small wage, as you wouldn't attempt to undercut the rate card if they are a member of the Union.

Chris Pottage: For better or worse, the internet has invited global competition for voice work.

A lot has changed in 20 years. No fancy studios to rent – no expensive multitrack recorders or DAT machines – anyone can get in the game.

We live in a world where “supply and demand” is the backbone of market economy… for all products and all services.

Demand is how much of a product or service is desired by buyers – hence the higher rate cards for the elite voices.

And supply is the number of choices the buyer has to choose from (unlimited because of the internet).

I think in a utopian world, it would be great if there was some (fair) way to judge, categorize, and price every voice on the planet – so everyone gets paid a fair dollar based on the quality of their work. But that’s a drug induced dream.

I know a voice who at one time commanded as much as $20,000 for a 30 minute commercial voiceover session (national TV). Those times are loooong gone.

Inexpensive technology & the internet have driven rates down.

I can’t see that changing - short of shutting down the internet or starting a worldwide voiceover union & compelling EVERYONE to join. ?

There will always be someone hungry enough to take less and give more.

The motivation is different for everyone. Stay busy, keep the voice tuned, build relationships & reputation, work on the craft, put food on the table, just for fun… etc. etc.

Von Coffman: I’ve been pondering this question for years and then really started thinking about it when you fired it off to us formally.

I’m still at a loss as to how to make that happen in theory. In theory we would all have to be just as qualified… all our clients would have to be just as qualified… and market size would have to be of no consequence.

And what about commanding a bigger rate… when do you get to go up that unified ladder?

With that being said, we can move closer to respectable rates by not doing work for pennies, aka Fiverr and what not. But, then again, you’re back to skill level and the need for making a living. And here is the caveat: If you are a voice artist, then like all art, your talent or sound and feel is purely subjective. Usually people take the path of least resistance and therefore will do whatever job comes there way for whatever money is offered. If ya want more money, ya can’t be afraid to ask for it… and most importantly, ya can’t be afraid to say NO.

Just my 3 cents worth, cuz I’ll never pay ya just 2.

Michael Pederson, Station Manager - 106.7 RED FM (CKYR): I think that an "official unified rate card" would be impossible as there are too many variables from one artist to the next. If there was a common space where professionals could discuss and submit details with each other, it might empower other VO artists with the knowledge of what their work is worth.

Aleksander Lilleøien, Commercial Producer, SBS Discovery Radio Norway: As a commercial producer who does individual casting for every production, I prefer the predictability that comes with fixed rates. However, I'm also a fan of the talents freedom to know his or her value and set their rates accordingly. I'll never pay a union rate fee if I can get as good a read or better with a cheaper option, but I will always choose the best option I can afford within each budget. The way I solve this is by having two lists of talents: One for the ones charging union rate or higher, and a second list for the cheaper ones.

As for fee sizes, I urge all talents not to go too cheap just to get your foot inside the door. It's not easy to increase your price when the market is used to getting you for almost nothing, and charging way too small fees will only contribute to forcing other talents to lower their fees, and if that development goes much further it will be next to impossible to make a living as a voice talent. So think it through and do what you can to develop without contributing to the destruction of the VO business.

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