7-8 minutes reading time.
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. Pricing 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…
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.
You’re not buying square metres of carpet. My point is that voice over is not a commodity you can price in this way. It is a personal performance. This means that you cannot ‘scale it up’ like you might another business by hiring an extra person. You cannot subcontract it. It depends on the availability of an individual. It also means there is a creative value in the performance. The derived benefit is more than the sum of time taken to make it. You can’t measure it out in increments of square metres, like carpet.
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 ‘sports apparel’ in current usage. This requires the voiceover artist to exercise some control over the use of all their work. Otherwise, work intended for one use, could end up somewhere else, potentially breaching a contract. This means that they don’t ‘sell’ you a voiceover, but instead ‘licence’ it. You pay for the right to use it. 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. If you were to play the CD to a public audience, you would likely need a PRS licence.
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.
Different genres of voiceover work have evolved over time from different industries. This means that sometimes there are different charging structures which can be confusing.
Basic Studio Fee (B.S.F.)
For most UK voice over artists, 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 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 this is ‘spoken word’, so if we’re being 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.
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.
Local radio commercial rates tend to be a set fee based on an Equity agreement specifically for that sector. 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. If you perform 2 characters in one commercial, you would be paid 2 fees etc.
IVR (On-Hold) Work tends 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.
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 deal 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 male voice over artist based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK.
He voices projects as diverse as the voice of Tripadvisor’s owl on TV in the UK, US and Canada to English language e-learning material on the production of Champagne for Mumm Perrier Jouet of France.