While the concept of “free” anything is often attractive, when it comes to using free voice-over talent, the downside risks will usually far outweigh the upside cost savings.
Head into a store, any store, and bring your selected item up to the cashier. Then tell him or her you’d like to have this particular item for free, with the promise of coming back to purchase loads and loads of additional items in the future.
Think the cashiers will go for it?
Not if they want to keep their job.
In fact, you may be lucky if you get out of the store without a personal security guard escort.
But this very scenario happens all the time in creative industries, particularly in the voice-over world. Asking VO talent to work for free hurts their business for obvious reasons, but it can also hurt yours. Still, some companies still ask for it, and some VO actors still oblige.
Why Free Voice-Over Talent May Agree to Work for Nothing
Finding free voice-over talent may be easier than you think, especially with increased competition popping up in every corner of the Internet. But you need to be wary of those who agree to performing work at no cost, as not all the reasons for accepting such work may promise exceptional – or even good – results.
The talent is new or inexperienced.
Nabbing that first voice-over job can be tough. But nabbing that first free voice-over talent gig can be relatively easy. Even if the new voice-over actor has talent, it may be rather raw. And inexperience in the business may leave the final product in a state of incompleteness, or worse. Hiring a full-time pro VO talent from the get-go can save your company time, money and headaches in the long-run. It can also ensure you get the job right the first time.
The talent believes the promises of more work to come.
Even if your company has the honest intent of providing more work for the person if the first freebie is a goody, there is usually nothing binding you to make the promise come true. And if you really look at the deal from the talent’s point of view, additional work from a company that is too cheap to even pay for the first job may not be such a good deal after all.
The talent wants exposure, professional samples.
This reason is not all that horrible, as it’s always a good move to stock a voice-over portfolio with stellar samples of your work. But it also uses the project as a training ground, and if the voice-over talent is providing their contribution to the project gratis, one questions the level to which other aspects of the project are valued, which may elicit less than a stellar sample out of the gig.
The talent thinks that’s the way the industry works.
Yes, even in this age of information, many remain uninformed on the basics of the voice-over industry. Attention clients and talent alike: working for free is NOT how the industry works. Anyone who tells you differently may also have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.
How It Can Hurt Your Business
If you’re not yet convinced that asking voice-over talent to work for free is not the best route to take for your business, a few more reasons may do the trick.
You get what you pay for.
This adage holds true all across the board. Cheaper services can often mean cheaper results. And you can’t get much cheaper than free. It simply doesn’t make sense to cheapen your marketing or video efforts with a free voice-over talent added to the mix.
You can earn a reputation as a cheapskate.
Once your company is known for offering low-cost or no-cost gigs, a cheapskate reputation can be hard to shake. Even if you up the ante in the future and start paying fair rates for professional services, your name may already be tainted enough for talent to view you with suspicion or avoid you altogether.
You can end paying more in the long run.
A free recording technically costs you absolutely nothing, at least in theory. But in reality you must account for the possibility of multiple do-overs as well as the editing, training and babysitting you may have to provide.
A anecdotal case in point comes from a friend who owns an event planning firm. She’s frequently had to clean up after her unpaid staffers by retracing their missteps, correcting their mistakes and apologizing to business partners they’ve alienated.
She notes it’s easier to hire one decently paid person who knows what she’s doing than deal with nine unpaid people who can make things difficult.
And no matter how many unpaid voice-over actors you may go through, results may still fall flat. Then you have to add in the time, effort and additional resources it takes to seek out and hire an experienced, versatile, professional voice-over talent who would have done it right in the first place.
Your company can end up with lots of bad karma.
Finagling free work out of people is an unethical practice that can even be illegal in certain situations. While voice-over actors can often be legally classified as independent contractors that exempt you from federal and state labor and wage regulations, the definition of independent contractor is a hazy one.
And karma does tend to come around. You may not notice the negative effects right away, but you can rest assured they’ll be on their way.
While the karma idea may sound philosophical, it also contains a major dose of common sense. As Switch and Shift points out, bad karma can create a massive drag on your profits:
- Abuse customers and they’ll flee as soon as they find a competitive deal
- Abuse employees and they’ll jump ship as soon as they can get another job (while the really talented folks will avoid you entirely)
- Abuse the community and you’ll end up with protests, boycotts and court cases
- Abuse the law and you’ll end up getting caught, no matter how long it takes
It’s tough to be profitable when you’re stuck with fleeing customers, disgruntled employees seeking escape, boycotts and court cases, and monetary penalties or prison time.
One final reason to steer clear of free voice-over talent was mentioned by voice actor and audio producer Chris Mezzolesta. He pointed to the extraordinary feeling you get when you create something fantastic and watch it come to life with an equally fantastic voice-over talent, a creative partner that knows his or her job. Finding that kind of creative partnership with someone with no real stake in the game may provide less than stellar results in your final product.
Remember, the voice of the actor is the voice of your business. Treating the talent well will not only make you sound better, but feel better for the long haul.