I had dinner with my family last night in honor of my brother’s 40th birthday. I was seated across from my parents in a noisy chain restaurant, and like any good son, I want to make my parents proud. Now, I’ve been a voice actor for 16 months, and doing it exclusively for a month and a half. I know that’s not a lot of time, but I’m wondering how much longer it’ll have to be before I stop having to follow up “Things are going well, I’ve got work lined up!” with “..in voiceover. Because I’m a voice actor.”
What the Hell is a Voice Actor?
I think I’ve explained what I do enough times that my folks finally, maybe, kind of understand what I do. The daily marketing routine, the maintaining a web presence, the myriad of types of voiceover I perform…it’s kind of tough to sum up, or even to sell as a “real” job. One thing I have to combat is that the encouragement I get is usually “This’ll be your big break!” to pretty much anything I tell them about.
So despite having a pretty good first year in VO, my dinner table accolades include background work in two TV shows and a small-run political ad. Which is cool; at least I don’t have to talk about DJ’ing weddings anymore!
Oh, and audiobooks. They understand audiobooks too. I know that because for some reason, instead of asking how work’s going, my folks ask, “What book are you reading?” So now I’m just going to pretend that all VO is “reading books” and let them in on what’s happening.
Also, my mom asked if I do all the cooking now that my wife‘s business has taken off.
The moral is don’t seek fame at any level, even at the dinner table. A lot of my career is just going to be between my clients and me, and that’s fine. I can measure my worth by own concept of success, and that is enough.
What Are You Worth?
Needless to say, a lot has changed in the voice over industry in the last ten or so years. The same tools and technologies that make work easier to find than ever are the same tools that make that work cheaper to produce. Recording equipment gets smaller, more affordable, and easier to use every day. Pay to play sites open the doors to pretty much anyone with cash to burn, both on the “client” and “talent” side. However, I don’t want this to be another blog about how Voice123 and the Blue Yeti are signals of the end of the good old days; there’s enough of that out there, and I don’t necessarily agree with it anyway. Good work is still out there, still pays well, and still requires savvy and talent to seek out and perform.
It’s important to figure out what you’re worth, how low you’re willing to go, and how much of your time can be spent on a sliding scale. Therapists have sliding scales, even the really, really amazing ones like my wife, so why shouldn’t VO actors? For the right client, I’m willing to bend my price. Up until recently, that list included pretty much anyone who haggled with me. I’m done with that. I have too many clients that don’t pay enough to be worth my time anymore, and now I either have to renegotiate my rate with them or drop them. And believe me, it’s very hard for me to turn down work.
Set Your VO Rates and Stick to Them
Your rate card is going to be difficult to determine at first, but once you have it, stick to it. This means your rate on Voices is the same rate as on your site, too. Most agents’ work comes with a budget attached, so this doesn’t really apply so much to that, as long as your agent isn’t bringing you work for peanuts, which in my experience almost never happens.
Obviously when you first start out, you want to get as much work as you can to beef up your resume and get your name out there, but you have to be aware that once a client gets used to paying you a certain amount, asking for more later down the road can be hazardous. Setting your rates early on and sticking to them will ensure that you don’t fall into the trap of taking any job at any price. That’s not what professionals do. Take a good long look at what you’re able to do, look up the union rate sheets, and alter them accordingly. It shows that you know what you’re worth. The clients that balk at a reasonable rate and try to shake you down usually aren’t worth keeping anyway.