The cost of hiring a voiceover

Cafe style price list

Pricing for voiceovers can seem like a bit of a minefield to both voice actors and clients alike. In the same way that a dozen different types of coffee can have a dozen different price points, so can seemingly similar voice jobs. You’re still getting a cup of coffee at the end of the day, right? But we tend to accept that quality varies and you might want extras like dairy-free cream or caramel and marshmallows which cost more. And the person preparing your coffee in one cafeteria may be more experienced and professional than someone in another cafe who adds too much milk, takes forever, or slops a little into the saucer.

Most of us have a rough idea how much a coffee will cost and appreciate the difference between a polystyrene cup of instant coffee from a local fete compared with a cinnamon skinny latte in a posh cup. But voiceover work is less familiar and it can be difficult for a small business to know how much to budget or what to expect when asking for a quote. Should you budget £50 or £5000? What is included in the basic price? And why should a voice artist charge ten times more per hour than you earn? Read on!!

Basic hourly rate, studio fee or “session fee”

Professional voice artists work to a BSF (Basic Studio Fee or ‘Session Fee’) which you can think of like the call out charge you would pay a plumber, or the hourly labour charge for a mechanic. This is usually between £200-£300 but varies with experience, country of residence, and – if the artist works from home – includes the business costs associated with running and maintaining a studio as well as any associated technical work they offer as part of their service.

Depending on the complexity of your script, an hour’s work will get you up to 15 minutes of finished material including time for rehearsal, retakes and editing. This means most corporate explainer videos will fall within the standard BSF. Some voice artists might offer a reduced fee for a short script, in the same way a mechanic might price their labour in half hour blocks, but there is usually a minimum booking fee even on a very small job. A friendly tip – if you want to build a good working relationship with your chosen artist it’s best not to book them for a 1000 word job and then send a dozen short scripts to be recorded on different days over the course of a month. Just like you wouldn’t ask a decorator to paint one wall of your house at a time and expect the price to be the same as if they came in for a day and painted the whole house in one go. Makes sense, yes?

Pricing per word

There is a trend in some arenas to try and get voices to price all of their work per minute, but this isn’t always sensible. Take an eLearning script for non-English speakers. It’s going to be delivered slowly, with lots of pauses and repetition. Pricing per minute means a client is basically paying extra for large sections of silence. Compare this to a training video for doctors on a new pharmaceutical product – they are familiar with the necessary terminology and don’t need long words to be spoken slowly. Although the script is a lot more complex, it will be delivered at a much higher speed. For this reason eLearning is usually priced per word, with a surcharge for a highly technical script or one with a lot of unusual pronunciations, since this needs more prep time and a voice artist with some degree of specialism in the area. The price may also be higher if you want the artist to go through and remove all breaths, insert a specific amount of silence between each phrase, or break the file into 50 small files. Expect to pay between 15p and 50p per word, and remember the minimum booking fee discussed above.

Amendment fees

Supposing you’ve paid £250 for a 5 minute corporate video but you realise some of the sentences just don’t sound right. Is it OK to rewrite a few lines and ask the voiceover artist to re-record them? Usually, yes! While it’s your responsibility to make sure your script sounds right before you pay for it to be recorded, most voice artists will include one round of (minor) amendments if notified within a set period of time.  Amendments should all be sent together as it will be easier for us to sound match the new bits to fit seamlessly into the existing audio.

If the words are OK but you feel the pace or emphasis is wrong some voice artists will agree to re-do the job – however – if you gave specific direction or approved a sample and subsequently changed your mind, then expect to pay a retake fee, which could be between 50%-100% of the original fee. If the artist followed your instructions they are under no obligation to repeat the work for free so it’s best to agree on pace, style and the terms for re-takes in advance. Back to the decorator, if you asked for your walls to be painted blue then afterwards decided you wanted a bluish-grey, you would expect to be charged again, even if the shade was only slightly different. If you aren’t sure which shade of blue you want you might ask the decorator to go ahead and choose for you, but it would be wise to ask for a sample beforehand and this definitely applies to important voice projects. Make sure you book your voice artist well ahead of your final deadline to allow for this!

Usage fees

And then we come to usage fees. Work that is not for public broadcast doesn’t usually require a usage fee, so think of the usage fee as buying a license to broadcast the audio. In the same way that you would have to pay a fee to the copyright holder if you wanted to use a piece of music in your advert, you also have to pay a fee to a voice artist to share their performance publically – including online. And the more people you intend to broadcast the performance to, the higher the fee.  Usage is commonly charged somewhere between 50%  and 400% of the BSF depending on the size of the audience and purpose of the audio. You can save on usage fees by licensing a recording say for 3 months instead of a full year (additional time can always be added later down the line if needed).

Variations in rates

While there are some published guidelines on voiceover fees there is no fixed industry standard for all types of work, but the Gravy for the Brain ratecard gives a good idea of price ranges for different types of work. Freelance voiceover artists set their own fees the same as any other freelancer, so they can of course work outside of these ranges.  If you think a quote is on the high side remember you are not just paying for 10 minutes of their time to read a few words, but also ongoing training and business costs, upkeep of equipment, plus the time we spend recording free samples and marketing our businesses. There’s no sick pay, company pension, or holiday pay for freelancers so this must also be covered by the hourly rate. The good news is that nearly all voice artists will happily record you a free sample of your script and give you a quote before you commit to anything so you can compare quotes from a few different people before deciding who to invest in.

Can you haggle with a voiceover artist? You can try. Although it’s better to be honest about your budget and say “I only have £300” rather than be disrespectful of their craft and say “I don’t think this job should take you any longer than an hour”. As long as your budget is realistic most voice artists will try to work within that range, and if you really do need to tighten your purse-strings maybe you just order the black coffee and decide that dairy-free cream and marshmallows aren’t essential after all!

Hopefully that has shed some light onto a really complex topic!

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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