Getting Paid Well for Female Voice-Over Services: Understanding Pricing

This article is part of a series of articles exploring various aspects of what is involved in getting paid well as a working female voice-over talent in today’s highly competitive voice over industry. You may want to also read the first article in this series, Getting Paid by Voice-Over Clients – An Overview of What Matters Most, and look for more blog posts on this topic in the coming weeks.

Please share your comments, opinions, experiences and points of agreement or disagreement. A lively discussion is always a good thing!

Finding That Perfect Balance of Pricing Your Services

As a freelance female voice-over talent, it is very important for me to understand how to price my voice-over services in a way that creates a win-win feeling for my clients and for myself.

If I am priced too high for any given project, the client may not hire me for that project or, if he does hire me,  may feel like he didn’t get his money’s worth and therefore will be less likely to hire me for future projects.

Getting Paid Well for Female Voice-Over Services If I am priced too low, the client is very happy but I will feel like my efforts and talents are not being fairly valued and that may lead to some negative feelings which can really get in the way of client relations and me being productive in my business.

I also find that when I have priced myself too low, there are often more requests by that client to make more changes for no additional charge, or completely redo the project for little or no added cost. So, I have learned that clients who expect me to charge significantly lower than normal fees for female voice-over services are often the same clients who want a lot of free changes on the backend.

For me, finding that perfect balance point in pricing comes from experience and intuition. Being aware of the client’s needs, the variables of the project, the range of the current going rate and what just feels right.

The Importance of Educating Your Voice-Over Clients on Pricing

As the old story goes…

“Nikola Tesla visited Henry Ford at his factory, which was having some kind of difficulty. Ford asked Tesla if he could help identify the problem area. Tesla walked up to a wall of boilerplate and made a small X in chalk on one of the plates. Ford was thrilled, and told him to send an invoice.

The bill arrived, for $10,000. Ford asked for a breakdown. Tesla sent another invoice, indicating a $1 charge for marking the wall with an X, and $9,999 for knowing where to put it.”Know-Where Man Story

The point of this story is obvious and its lesson could be applied to many businesses or areas of specialty, including voice-over. However, it is sometimes difficult for people who hire female voice-over talent to understand just how tricky it can be to make a script sound great. There is so much subtlety involved.

Delivering female voice-over services is as much an art as it is a business, yet many people don’t see it that way initially.

So, I sometimes find it necessary to explain to a new client who is overly focused on getting a “cheap” price, that yes, there are many other female voice-over talents out there who can record his script for the price he’s asking, but he needs to ask himself, “What will be the quality of the final product? Will it get him (and his end client) the results he is seeking?”

Essentially, I am reminding him that female voice-overs are like many other business services or products, you usually get what you pay for. And when you’re trying to communicate your message effectively to your audience, it’s not wise to scrimp on the person who is speaking your message out loud over the top of your video or on your radio commercial. No matter how great the final audio or video production is, if you add a sub-par voice-over track, it’s going to be less effective than if you hired a professional, experienced voice talent.

Voice-over work is so often seen by the layperson as being something that “looks” easy… People hear a voice on a commercial and they can imitate it almost exactly and think, “Hey, I could do that!” But, an artist must create on the spot and be original and relevant, on target… Not just an imitator of other artists who work in the same medium.

Being a Female Voice-Over Artist is Highly Creative AND Technical

When I am hired to do what I do, I’m not just hired to deliver the product. I’m hired to be a “creator” of the product. To bring something original and unique that captures the true essence of what the client is after.

Any experienced voice-over talent can share stories of being in a session doing take after take on one simple phrase, to get it just right. There is a reason that advertisers and marketers strive to get it just right. If it didn’t matter, they wouldn’t take the time to do it.

Anybody can read a line into a microphone. But it takes a real voice-over artist to read the line in a way that captures the essence and conjures the desired image or thoughts in the mind of the audience.

I liken it to being an accomplished jazz musician who has mastered the technical theory and now can easily improvise and play the notes the fit the moment.

Voice-over pricing is one of the key points I educate clients on to help them understand why the price is where it is and to illustrate that in many situations, a good portion of what they are paying me for is my knowledge of exactly where to put the X.

 has been a full-time female voice-over recording artist for more than 20 years. She has collaborated on over 10,000 projects and partnered with hundreds of production companies, marketing and advertising firms, commercial voice-over recording studios and corporate/business clients around the United States and abroad. Check out her Female Voice-Over Demos and request a Voice-Over Services Quote for an upcoming project. 

15 comments on “Getting Paid Well for Female Voice-Over Services: Understanding Pricing

  1. Rick Lance Studio on

    You made some really solid points here, Debbie, regarding the worth of a true talent over a non professional. And why your pricing should reflect that.

    As I read through I began to think about the differences between male and female voice talent as applied to various projects. That could be your next area of interest to write about!

  2. dgrattan on

    Hey Rick – thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, it’s a daily game we all play with putting a price on our services.

    Do you think male and female voice talents are paid differently? Is there a gender gap in pay for voiceover as in other areas of the workforce, with men sometimes getting paid more, just by virtue of their gender?

    What exactly are you referring to when you bring up differences between male and female VO as applied to work?

  3. Rick Lance Studio on

    I really meant from a female talent’s perspective. I’m not sure if female talent feel a gender pay issue … being less than a male’s.. exits. I sometimes wonder why, when not obvious, one gender is chosen over the other for a particular project. I guess women more than men would be more aware of a pay disparity. What do you think? I do know women feel left out sometimes in the movie trailer business. But that may be changing. Guess I’m really more interested in what you have to say.

  4. Matt Forrest on

    Love your post, Debbie, esp. this line: “There is a reason that advertisers and marketers strive to get it just right. If it didn’t matter, they wouldn’t take the time to do it.” So true! Now, if we can just convince potential clients of that…

  5. dgrattan on

    Hi Matt,
    Fortunately, I find that most of the clients I get to work with these days do get it! At least on the projects that require that level of detail and subtlety. Thanks for commenting, I really enjoyed your post on the similar topic!

  6. Paul Boucher on

    Hi Debbie – good post.

    I was sensitive to your headline too, since I’m reading the Caitlin Moran book How to Be A Woman (screamingly funny and something that should be compulsory reading for girls, moms but ESPECIALLY brothers and dads: http://www.amazon.com/How-Be-Woman-Caitlin-Moran-ebook/dp/B0068LYEHA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1392847075&sr=1-1&keywords=how+to+be+a+woman)

    Anyway – regarding two points put forward in comments above:

    1) There should never be a pay discrepancy between female and male voice actors. Period. The End. If anyone discovers that a client does engage in this 19th century practice – time to fire the client.
    2) Regarding the comment on originality/craft of the talent – I found a great sign while Christmas shopping in one of our crazy knick knack stores that now hangs in my studio. The sign said: “Be a voice, not an echo”. I thought it was a beautifully succinct statement/credo for every day, everywhere. 🙂

    Finally – our disparate, dispersed tribe of VO talent needs to communicate more transparently about rates – not so someone can undercut someone, even though someone always will – but so we can help prevent the sort of commoditization that’s occurring in the industry because clients can approach 10 different, qualified voice actors, and get 10 different estimates, about half of which will not be based on any sort of business logic or sound practice.

    Let’s help each other out (share info) so we can keep rates at a level fit for sustainable careers and businesses and even begin to reverse this ridonculous rate erosion we’ve been suffering through. It sometimes feels like any hobbyist who discovers they have an extra USB port on their computer wants to plug a mc in there and make beer money for the weekend. 🙂

  7. Bobbin Beam on

    As we all know, voiceover pricing is all over the map. And as the old adage goes, “You get what you pay for”. And educating the client that price should never trump value is key. If the gig’s bottom line is all about who offers the lowest price, then it’s about the bottom feeders. Feel free to walk away. You’ll respect yourself, and there will be more opportunities that will be a better fit.

  8. Amie Breedlove on

    Hi Debbie! Good stuff. Totally agree and especially like the “I liken it to being an accomplished jazz musician who has mastered the technical theory and now can easily improvise and play the notes the fit the moment.”

    Thanks!!

  9. Debbie Grattan on

    Thanks for the lively discussion here. Bobbin, I totally agree that if low price is what a potential client wants as their top priority, it’s a sign they’re probably not going to turn into a top/high pay client, and may not be the optimal client for me. However, I do try to be flexible and accommodate as I can. It’s a judgement call we all have to make daily, depending on our schedules and standards. Paul, I’ll have to check out the book (though sounds like it’s mostly meant for the “opposite” sex.) The idea of standard rates is something I often look to SAG/AFTRA to set. Most of my quotable rates are based on that standard, though sometimes, I will quote higher on certain things, such as elearning, than what I see in the Union. Dave and Dave (based in LA) are a good source for that kind of rate publication as well, for anyone looking for that kind of information.

  10. Debbie Grattan on

    And Rick, I did have another comment regarding male vs female from Gary Terzza, who noted that women in his workshops seemed to actually be “braver” in asserting themselves in marketing and getting set up with home studios than their male counterparts. I think just by virtue of talent pool size, males have more competition, so may have to actually be more flexible on quoting rates, depending on where they’re getting the job offers. Obviously, a potential client coming from a P2P may have a completely different perspective than an ad agency AE going through a boutique talent agency to find VO.

  11. Debbie Grattan on

    Thanks for the comment Amie. You must be a musician! Or at least be someone who truly appreciates music and all that goes into that art form.

  12. Paul Boucher on

    Debbie, although I made light of it, Caitlin Moran definitely wanted women to read this book. 🙂

    It helps that even though her message is sometimes serious, I’ve actually laughed out loud several times in every chapter.

    This is for our men’s book club (Liquor & Letters – a bottle of single malt whisky every month to “facilitate” discussion about the book). I’ll be curious to hear why he thought we should read it as a club. 4 of the 8 of us have daughters.

    Back to your topic though – I think it’s really important to help educate P2P clients (all clients, really) whenever we can. There are plenty of times when the “education” on viable rates won’t be accepted, but then the education becomes the talent’s: they/we have to learn to say no.

    However, no one can say no in an informed fashion is they don’t have a good idea of what viable rates actually are/can be – hence my earlier point of communicating with each other when we have opportunities that require some input or raise some questions.

    elearning is one of those areas that’s going to be with us in one form or another for a while as an example – especially for those of us outside of major markets with limited access to ad/animation or other large market gigs. If people keep going lower and lower, it’s going to turn into the gong show that radio imaging has become and basically be a “dollar a holler” business which is no good for anyone except the client.

    The point that a lot of people just getting into the business miss – and it’s a natural mistake to make in many ways, especially without prior business experience – is that the transaction should be a win-win situation.

    We continue to receive messages that the business/clients set rates, but that’s just not true.

    The artist sets rates *collaborating* with a client. Artists lead the culture especially THIS culture. They have to do it from a position of knowledge. If the client doesn’t like the rates – that’s NOT the same as the MARKET not liking the rates.

    I’m not advocating an inflexible approach to price. It’s important to be listening to clients – but learning how other talents are doing in other markets is *essential* to an informed approach to rates.

    This is a long and complicated subject, subject to all sorts of regional nuances – some of them not very pretty. Getting work at decent rates out of certain places in the world is just impossible – especially relative to North American rates. Talents have to approach those economies with the same deliberate, knowledge based approach. *Don’t* just take a client’s word for it that whatever they’re throwing out is the acceptable market rate until you’ve done the research to satisfy yourself that there’s truth in their assertion.

    On and on it goes.

    Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.

  13. Debbie Grattan on

    Thanks Paul, for your post! Here are my thoughts on what you wrote…

    I think it is very difficult for a voice talent who is fairly new to the business or working part time to say “no” to work even when it is under-priced. I hold to the theory that the seasoned, experienced and highest quality talent will always be able to have more pricing power because they are the pros in the industry and will be recognized as such. A less experienced talent is not going to be able to deliver results as well as a seasoned pro talent (in most cases).

    There will always be jobs out there for talent who are willing to work for low rates. But I don’t think the existence of those jobs will necessarily undermine the ability for experienced talent to always be paid well.

    When I started in this business (back in the early 90’s), home studios did not exist and the only people doing voice over work were actors who could physically go to recording studios.

    Now that there are home studios and practically anybody can call themselves a voice talent and audition for jobs, the playing field has dramatically changed. And with so much content creation, the demand for more voice talent is greater than ever.

    I think the idea of all voice talent being firm on their pricing is probably not going to happen. In any field, there is disparity in pricing. I can pay $15 for a haircut at Walmart, or $45+ for a master stylist at a salon. Some might argue it’s the same thing. Others readily tell the difference, either in the quality of work, the customer service, the ambiance of the salon, etc.

    Perhaps the way of looking at it is that there is plenty of work out there for everyone, regardless of what price level you want to work in. Your clients’ budgets are all over the place too, and at least as independent contractors, we have the choice of who we choose to work with at what price.

    I try to look at things from a positive perspective, and see the upside.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    All the best,
    Debbie

  14. Norm McBride on

    Debbie,
    Very nice read. I often hear people say what a fantastic voice they have and wonder whether they should get in the Voice Over market place. I explain to them that a saxophone too is a beautiful instrument…but the question is: Do you know how to play it? The sax, like the voice, is an instrument. Sure you could pick it up and blow a note or two, but that would make for a fairly uninteresting performance.

    Keep up the good work. Nice to be able to call you my friend.
    Norm

    BTW: I always try to find out what the clients budget is, before I give them a price for my services. I may be surprised that they want to pay more than I was going to ask for the job.

  15. Debbie Grattan on

    Hey Norm!! Thanks for reading and commenting!
    I love your analogy of the saxophone. I may have to borrow that at some point. And I agree, I often will ask the client about budget before quoting. Like you, sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised that they were budgeting more than what I was going to quote.

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