7-8 minutes reading time. Article Updated: 8th Feb 2022.
It’s a challenge for many voiceover artists. How much? Everybody wants a simple answer. If only there was one.
I’ll let you into a little secret. How much to charge for voice over work is one of the most discussed areas by voice over artists in groups and forums. Sometimes it’s a lack of knowledge from new talent. Often it’s a lack of confidence. I’ll leave the “know your worth” discussion for another blog, but here’s my take…
Voice Overs Rates – Why Is It So Complicated?
Well, there are 3 key reasons I would say. I’ll list them out and then take you through each in detail:
- Usage and Performance rights.
- Established practices in different genres.
- You’re buying from a business, even if it feels like hiring a person.
So let’s get to the issues.
Issue 1 – Usage and Performance Rights.
An issue that is often mis-understood is that you don’t ‘buy’ a voice-over recording. Instead, you buy a ‘licence’ to use it.
Voice-over pricing generally divides into two components. The recording and the usage.
The recording component, often called a B.S.F. (Basic Studio Fee) is an hourly in-studio fee to make the recording. That is time spent in the room, not the finished length of the recording.
The second component is usage. Voice-over is a performance, much like a musician. It is a bespoke, provided service. The usage is a fee to reflect the exposure the performance receives and the value derived from the voice-over by the product.
There is a creative value in the performance. The benefit from its use is more than the sum of time taken to make it. (This is no different than a royalty or equivalent in other creative industries).
As an aside it’s worth pointing out that in many parts of the world there is either existing law or proposed law coming that offers some protection to performance rights. Essentially, fair remuneration is to be expected. The Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances or a variation of it is being adopted by many countries.
Voice Over ‘Conflicts’.
Voice over artists can often be subject to ‘conflict’ clauses and exclusivity requirements, particularly in advertising. So for instance, a sports brand like Nike or Adidas might only hire a voice that has no work with other customers in the ‘sports apparel’ sector in current usage. This means that a professional voiceover artist has to exercise some control over the use of their work. Otherwise, work intended for one use, could end up somewhere else, potentially breaching a contract.
Returning to the music analogy, you already buy products in this way. Think of it like an Ed Sheeran CD. You buy it and have the right to listen to it, but that doesn’t mean you ‘own’ the rights to his music. (Read the small print on the disc). If you were to play the CD to a public audience, you would likely need a PRS licence. If you were to sell pirated copies of that CD, you’d be in legal hot water.
All Rights, All Media, In Perpetuity.
There’s been a rise recently in production companies and clients requesting an “all rights, all media, in-perpetuity” licence. This is a convenient catch-all that pleases the legal department, but actually can really seriously limit your choices. A true professional is not going to agree to these terms because of the implications it might have on other work. That is unless the fee compensates for the loss of major contracts. Instead, you’re left with non-professionals who don’t realise what career-damaging harm they are doing. Quality suffers.
Understanding Usage Can Save You Money.
Using the ‘all rights’ request will rule many out. Being clear about usage can rule many people in and save you money. Usage is usually calculated around the likely number of people to hear something. If you’re specific about where the content will be used, you’d be surprised at the value you can achieve. I recently had a potential video client say to me, “we probably can’t afford you” because they know I’ve been the voice of international TV campaigns. Once I explained usage to them, they realised they didn’t have to pay TV commercial rates for a corporate video. They were very happy with the end product.
Issue 2 – Established Practices in Different Genres.
There are many different genres of voiceover work which have evolved over time from different industries. This means that voiceover rates can differ in both the amount that is charge and the mechanism that arrives at the figure. This can be quite confusing.
Basic Studio Fee (B.S.F.)
I’m a British voiceover artist, and for most of us based in the UK, the starting point is something called a B.S.F. (Basic Studio Fee). This is a charge per studio hour for the voice over artist’s services. So not a fee for the studio hire, but a fee for the artist’s time in-studio. Where a B.S.F. is charged, an additional usage fee is normally agreed as a percentage of one hour’s B.S.F. In 2021, a typical Voiceover B.S.F. in the UK is around £250 – £300.
Alternative Ways To Price.
E-Learning Voice Over Rates.
E-Learning has become a more important sector since the rise of broadband internet. For reasons even I don’t know it is historically charged on a word count. So you might see a charge “pw” (per word). Some companies translate this into time. I tend to work to 150 words per minute for example. This assumes no external usage, as most content is for internal business use.
For the record, historically the word count is based on ‘spoken word’, so if we’re being absolutely precise here, then “146” is actually five words: “One hundred and forty six”. Although actually, depending on the context, you might want me to say “One Four Six”: three words. Microsoft Word’s word-count struggles with this, so most of us overlook it, unless your script is littered with numbers and acronyms. Individual discretion is key here.
Audio-books tend to be priced by the “finished hour”. So, a voiceover artist working in that genre will tend to know how many hours are needed and what the total price will be. I understand that in this sector, the price per hour isn’t rounded up, so 2.5 hours is 2.5 times your finished hour agreed rate.
Radio Commercial Voice Overs. (UK Only)
Equity have collective agreements with the two largest UK radio groups (Global and Bauer). This means there is a rate-card for all commercials produced by these groups. As a British voice over, I work to this rate-card. This agreement only covers commercials made in house by the radio stations or their appointed producers. This is based on a per voice, per station basis. So you get a fee for one station, but 4 fees if it airs on 4 stations. The fee can vary depending on station size. If you perform 2 characters in one commercial, you would be paid 2 fees etc.
It’s worth noting here, that many stations are listed on the rate-cards that are not owned by Global or Bauer. This is because sometimes Global or Bauer may produce a commercial that also airs on other stations. This is the rate they have agreed for those stations. Stations outside of these groups haven’t necessarily agreed to this rate and may, or may not follow it.
A word that often gets lost in this discussion is “minimum”. It’s a minimum agreed Equity rate. A voice-over artist is free to decide their own fee if they feel it should be higher.
The agreed local radio rates doesn’t have an additional session fee, but live sessions tend to be very short (15 minutes), and if a client is present (in-person or remotely) an additional fee is charged to cover the additional time involved.
For radio commercials produced outside the local agreement, for instance by an agency, you would expect to charge a BSF, and then a licence fee for each station where the commercial airs. The licence tends to be for a 3 month period.
On-Hold / IVR – Interactive Voice Response Voice-Overs.
On-Hold voice over rates tend to be priced per prompt (usually with a limited number of words per prompt), although larger projects may book by B.S.F. Some artists will distinguish between informational messages and commercial messages.
Minimum Studio Fee.
It’s worth noting that on IVR and E-Learning, many voices will set a minimum studio fee. This isn’t an additional fee, but a minimum fee you will need to surpass with work.
What’s Your Voice Over Price Per Minute?
If you’ve only ever worked in E-Learning, this might seem like a totally logical question. But it can be a problem when you’re trying to price for another sector. An explainer video producer who moves into TV commercials, might not have considered the impact of usage on the price. A radio production team extends from radio commercials into producing a video for a client’s website, but have no appreciation of market rates for that product.
Stepping into another pricing sector can mean getting a handle on pricing using a different model. Most pro voice overs will be happy to chat about this. We’re here to help.
Studio Time versus Fixed Rate.
What I do see in these differing price structures that tends to make more sense of them, is that where the voice over artist is operating alone, a fixed rate is more likely, such as audiobooks or e-learning. This is where essentially the voice over artist is responsible for the time management. Where a voiceover artist is engaged in a studio and the time taken is dependent on other factors or people, then they are generally paid by the studio hour.
If you’ve never seen Channel 4’s “Toast Of London”, you’ll have missed this clip, which is possibly my most favourite ever. You’ll understand watching, why being paid by the word isn’t ideal for a directed session. (p.s. it’s a comedy, not a documentary!)
It’s funny because it’s ridiculous. It’s also funny because it taps into something that is true.
Issue 3 – You’re Buying From A Business.
I’m not going to dwell on this point too much, because there’s a danger of finger wagging, and that’s not my goal here. Instead I just offer it as a reminder of what I’m sure you already appreciate.
If you book a plumber, you probably won’t get them over your threshold for under £100. Even if the job takes 10 minutes. When you hire a “person” it’s easy to think, ‘oh that’s a bit steep’. You might be dealing with a person, but it is actually a business. You’re not just paying their wage. I’ve spent thousands of pounds on training – and that is an ongoing process. I’ve spent thousands on studio equipment, booths and technology. I pay professional subscriptions for accounts software, CRMs, associations, audio and video software, office services, conferences and much more.
When you book a professional, you’re paying for their expertise and their overhead. I for one like to use the word ‘value’. I’m from Yorkshire, so value is in my DNA. I believe I offer it. I’m not the cheapest. I’m not the most expensive. But there is a ratio in there somewhere of quality versus price.
About The Author:
Tony Collins Fogarty is a British Voice-Over Artist, with a background in broadcast and training as an actor. His radio career began in 1988. He has been a full-time voice over artist since 2012. Commercially, he is best known as the brand voice of Tripadvisor, playing their spokesperson (owl) in their TV campaigns in the US, Canada and the UK.