What do voice-over agencies and studios expect from talent?
Just in case you missed it, Voquent is a multilingual audio-visual production company specialising in voice-over.
We're one of many voice-over agencies and production companies that work in this industry. We've spoken to several of them over the years and have a good understanding of how we all see projects work and, most importantly, how to make them go smoothly.
We love our jobs, and when we contact a professional voice actor with an opportunity, we're full of genuine excitement. We're eager to get the best voice-over for the client! We provide lots of opportunities to voices all over the world, every single day. It's excellent for voices because they don't have to pay any subscription fees (like some of the other voice-over casting sites), and in most cases, the talent has not even had to audition to get the opportunity. They've just uploaded awesome voice Demos to their profile!
And it's great for us because we have a massive pool of professionals at our fingertips. Everyone's a winner! Most of the time, it's happy days. A pleasurable experience for everyone involved. A walk in the park. And we love it. The voice actors do a fantastic job, and our customers are delighted.
However, very occasionally, some voice actors make working with them unnecessarily complex. Rather than helping to get things done, they put up roadblocks, which isn't always intentional. It's often driven by a lack of understanding of how production companies and agencies work. This article aims to provide voice actors insight into what voice-over agencies and audio-visual production companies like and don't like. The aim is to improve working relationships and increase opportunities for everyone involved.
Without further ado. Here's the do's and don't for working with any voice-over agency or production company.
DO: Respond quickly and personably to emails about being shortlisted
These points might all seem obvious, but you would be surprised how often this doesn’t happen! Whenever you get an e-mail from a voice-over agency, particularly one like Voquent, then you are usually on a very short shortlist and are in realistic consideration for the job. Sometimes you might get open casting calls sent to every agency, but the way we work makes those situations rare.
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Responding promptly to e-mails makes the job of the agency much more effortless. There is often immense pressure from the client to provide information quickly, and many of them seem to think agencies all have a little cupboard full of voice actors they can access at any time! Being friendly and personable in those e-mails, even if the job isn’t something you are interested in or think the rate is too low, makes the whole experience much better for everyone!
I know I will personally always have a better experience with a friendly voice actor, even if there are some unforeseeable problems with the project, than a grumpy and rude person on a smoothly running project.
DON’T: Get offended about being shortlisted for a job, even if you think it’s “beneath” you (seriously)
The above might sound unbelievable to some, but we have heard many producers and agencies complain about this.
It is a standard process for a client to pick multiple voice options and shortlist various talents.
So, when we contact you about a project that may not match your taste, you are not directly picked for the first time or is below your usual working rates, please cut us all some slack—don’t be offended.
It’s not our fault the customer wanted a couple of options to show their client or wanted a couple of ‘backup’ options if their first choice wasn’t available. This is just how it works, and we’re only doing our job.
DO: Be clear and upfront about what you expect to be paid for a job, and how you will get paid for it
We work with customers worldwide, and what is considered a fair or 'industry' rate for a project may vary from one country to the next. In general, there is a lot of fear surrounding rates. We hear this again and again from voices actors worried that rates are being eroded. But this erosion isn't coming from studios and agencies like us. It's coming from the freelance platforms flooding the market.
Before P2P sites, budgets were higher for all creative project work, but now everyone is competing in a global marketplace. There's a long discussion to be had about the pivot to video, led mainly by Facebook, and how that has changed (many would say damaged) the entire media production industry, but there's no space for that here. Suffice it to say, the industry is much bigger than any one sector of it, and flooding of the industry in one area (video producers to begin with) ultimately leads to a flooding of the industry in every other area (including voice artists).
Your rates are precisely that – your own.
If Voquent offers you a project and you don't accept the rate – that is cool with us. We appreciate everyone has their value, intrinsic to them, but please understand we cannot offer the budget you may expect or are used to from your customers.
ALSO READ: Do I Need An Agent For voice-over Work?
There is tremendous pressure on rates.
We turn down projects every day, and we only ever offer projects to voices that we believe are a fair value of their time and effort. If you don't think they are a reasonable rate for you – turn it down. All we ask is that you tell us politely what you would accept. Then when we give the final voice-over options to our customers, they may decide to push their boss to pay a bit more, and you get the gig anyway! If not, we'll know what you expect the next time a client shortlists your Demos. It's a learning process - let's make it as fun and friendly as possible.
Another thing to bear in mind is to ensure that your invoices contain all relevant information (name, address, e-mail, telephone number, bank details) to act as professional financial documents. Voice agencies and production companies deal with thousands of invoices a year. Having to chase down a voice artist because they haven't provided the correct information can make it harder for you to be paid and cause issues for the finance team. Providing accurate information at the start is better for everybody. This also extends to ensuring you have an industry-standard banking merchant with an IBAN for wire transfers or, failing that, having a PayPal account.
DON’T: Increase rates for random reasons after already agreeing to a rate
As a busy voice actor, you may have your logic for calculating your VO rates. You may subscribe to a rate card published by a third party. Remember, many of the third-party rate cards can be self-serving. The companies that offer them do so to bolster their position and accrue subscription fees. It's in their interest to make the rate cards attractive to voice actors—essentially, it's marketing.
Rate cards can serve as a guide or a talking point, but they do not represent actual rates that customers pay. Nor are they reflective of a voice actor's rates when working with an agent or intermediary.
At best, they may represent what you could get working with a client directly, but even then, they are in some cases just guessed or made up entirely. None of the unions uses these third-party rate cards because the formal process for creating an actual rate card is to get a collective agreement between the workers and the employers.
A rate card without that collective agreement backing it is nothing but a series of guidelines and, in some cases, aspirations.
We ALL want to work with solid and generous budgets. A union is the only way to effectively and collectively set rates across any industry, but sadly, their power in the voice-over industry is diminishing.
Nevertheless, if you have a strict rate card you subscribe to or have created for yourself, please share it with our producer at the start of the conversation.
Sometimes the scope of projects change, and we go to great lengths to protect the voice actors we work with from unreasonable requests, but you shouldn't assume that you can increase your rates arbitrarily. Otherwise, you will put an agency in an awful spot with their customer. Of course, we would wholly expect clients to pay more if the audio changes from public to boosted or the already high word count doubles. Attempting to charge large additional fees for small changes, such as the 250-word script being 300 words, or the corporate customer wanting to put the video on their unloved social channels (non-boosted) and their website come across badly. Customers may already have paid the equivalent rate for the entire creative work on the video.
We've known some voice actors try to put up rates mid-project for no reason. Or even worse, agree to a fee when shortlisted and then put it up when they're finally selected because their rate for a live directed recording is three times their standard rate. Not cool.
If an agency can't trust you to stick to your word about rates, how can they feel confident working with you again in the future? They can't.
DO: Be honest about the quality of your home studio
Essentially the same as "don't lie on your CV", aka cover letter 101! don't do it because you'll be found out very quickly, and it immediately raises the question, 'what else aren't you being honest about?'.
Yes, it might make you feel better to say you record with a Neumann U87 and hope nobody can tell the difference, but any audio professional will likely spot this, and it will be too late. It could sour the relationship entirely.
That's not to say you can't talk lovingly about your professionally sound-proofed studio (which is covered wall to wall in duvets) because, frankly, you probably can get away with this if you set it up correctly.
Being upfront about your microphone model, pre-amp model, and recording software is essential to some customers and for a good reason.
Here's a good example. A customer is recording with various actors for an audio drama, and the characters may 'interact' in the finished product but are recorded separately. Every piece of audio gear adds 'colour' to the sound, and for projects like this, the customer may be very prescriptive and decide which voice actors they want to use based on the performance and the equipment they have access to.
ALSO READ: Best Interfaces & Pre-amps for Voice-Over
It's helpful to have a few backup studio options, too, such as a local studio or a fellow voice actor's home studio where you can record. Just in case something goes wrong with your equipment or it doesn't match the customer requirements for the job.
Most agencies will be OK with booking you into an external studio if necessary, so be honest about your studio setup.
DON’T: Hugely overcharge specifically to cover your home studio costs
It doesn’t cost a fortune to create a professional quality home studio as we have previously written.
However, you are naturally well within your rights and perfectly able to spend a King’s ransom on studio equipment! The thing is, if you do that, that is ultimately just your choice. If you want to get fancy audio equipment because you think it will help you stand out from the crowd, you are more than welcome to take that risk.
Still, unless you are getting very steady work with consistently outstanding usage fees attached to it, you must understand that it is a risk. It’s the same as investing in any other business. You have to balance the cost against the potential returns, and there is always a chance this may not perfectly work out.
However, one thing to avoid is to jack up your basic session fee to well above your experience levels to cover the cost of the studio and recoup it quicker. You are perfectly entitled to set your rates. Still, no agency will spend extra on a voice just because they have an expensive home studio when they could book a professional studio with an engineer at a lower cost.
This is a crucial tip if you are working with agents and production companies!
DO: Be receptive to feedback, follow the tone brief, read the script thoroughly and be friendly
Clients often want to participate live in voice-over sessions, with it generally more common than not across the whole industry.
When the client participates in a session, you must be prepared in the content and the brief. Try your best to match the tone they are looking for (especially if there is a reference Demo Sample). And take on board all feedback.
If a client says, "can you do it more like this", then say "yes, of course," and try your best to do it.
It's self-defeating and unprofessional to argue with them instead. We've had experiences—and so have many of our colleagues in other production companies and agencies—of voices arguing a point about technique or tone. Leaving the client feeling like they've just wasted a lot of money on audio they don't want.
If you don't think you can achieve a tone or style, say, "I'll give it a try!", not "Well, you see, I'm not going to copy this particular reference tone because it would sound ludicrous in my accent".
Saying the latter makes the agency look bad to the client, ultimately losing work for everyone involved.
And of course, being friendly is always necessary. Even if you can't do something, a client will come away from the session much happier if you were good-natured and tried to accommodate them.
DON’T: Say you offer live direction in your home studio if you have never recorded with live direction before
Unfortunately, this is quite common.
Imagine this. We’ve gone back and forth for days, sometimes weeks. The project is agreed and we’re busy sorting out the recording schedule when suddenly, out of nowhere, the voice tells us sheepishly, “Uhm…so can I just put the client on speakerphone for the session?”.
Unfortunately, this is quite common.
Imagine this. We've gone back and forth for days, sometimes weeks. The project is agreed upon, and we're busy sorting out the recording schedule when suddenly, out of nowhere, the voice tells us sheepishly, "Uhm…so can I just put the client on speakerphone for the session?". Sad face. See?
If you put the client on speakerphone via Skype, Zoom or on your tablet or mobile, the microphone will pick up the client's speech and background noise.
Unless you know what you're doing, background noise can make your audio completely unusable. Live direction is significant for all types of projects and if you haven't got it set up in your studio, be upfront about it. We work with voices regularly for offline sessions too, and if we do get a live requirement with that voice, we'll book them into a local studio that can accommodate. If you aren't sure about setting up your studio for live sessions, we encourage you to speak to an engineer. At Voquent, we offer consultation for a studio setup. Contact us if you're interested in booking one. We do have to charge studio time for this as it takes our engineer away from project work, but it's well worth it. He's very clever and handsome. [ED - who put this in?]
DO: Follow the audio deliverable requirements
This is self-explanatory and linked to the previous point about following the brief, but it is always worth re-stating the need to follow the specific brief.
A production company like Voquent will always provide professional, broadcast-quality audio editing services before sending them along to the client. Ensuring you follow the brief and send the files correctly split into takes, named, recorded. The proper bit depth and sample rate, exported with the correct number of channels (i.e. mono or stereo) and recorded cleanly without background noise, speed up the whole process.
Any production company or agency will have multiple projects simultaneously, and the less time they must request changes or spend fixing files, the more pleasant the memory of the experience of working with you will be! Following the brief goes a long, long way.
DON’T: Send the audio directly to the client and cut out the agency, or watermark your recordings
If you’re asked to deliver the audio to the agency for cleaning and editing, don’t send it to the client. The client is paying us for the job, and we’re your client.
Always deliver the work to who is paying you directly for the job, unless you’ve got explicit instructions to the contrary. If you provide the audio to the client directly, this immediately takes the agency/studio out of the equation. A good agency like Voquent ensures the audio is fully cleaned and edited to broadcast standards. Your audio may be getting mixed with a soundtrack or other voices before delivery. The client is relying on us to do this work. So. even if the client asks you to deliver to them, the short answer is to apologise and tell them you need to send the audio to the agency contracting you.
They will understand, and it keeps the supply chain in the correct order and means we’re not dealing with customer complaints about ‘how the audio isn’t in the requested format’ because the voice talent jumped the gun and sent an mp3 instead of a wav. Many customers don’t understand the process.
Another thing to avoid is “watermarking” your recordings (i.e. saying something before or after the recording that is not explicitly in the script). This requires more extended audio editing and is generally just a pain for everyone, so don’t do it, please!
DO: Ask the agency or the production company if you have any questions or concerns about the project/client
We’re here to help! We want to get the best quality project delivered for everyone, which also keeps everyone happy.
Suppose you have any concerns about the project, whether it’s the content, the usage, the rates, the client, or anything else. Ask the producer who booked you. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, so always ask the producer for clarity where needed.
DON’T: Attempt to bypass the agency to work with the customer directly
Whoever pays you for the work is your customer. They are the ones that have given you the opportunity, and you owe them your loyalty.
Attempting to bypass the agency by forging a direct connection with the end client is a betrayal of trust and completely unprofessional. We’re in the same boat. Our primary customer base can often be other media agencies, translation agencies, creative agencies, production companies, freelancers etc.
We value each of them because they have invested a lot of time and money in developing relationships with their customers. These relationships are valuable, and we would never attempt to circumvent our customers to approach their clients directly.
It's counterproductive anyway. It would kill our chances of ever working with the agency on other client's projects, and it wouldn't take long for word to spread.
If you start down this road, you may gain in the short term, but you will likely lose a lot more in opportunities they didn't even offer to you because of your unprofessionalism.
As a working voice actor, you need to keep this firmly in mind! Appreciate the customers who bring you the work—another reason to stick with the agreed delivery instructions.
DO: Appreciate that there is a lot of work before and after a voice-over recording that goes into every project.
Voice actors often ask us the question, “what’s your percentage?” which indicates they’ve misunderstood our role.
We must use the term ‘voice-over agency’ for the SERPs (search engines), but we’re an audio-visual production company operationally. A production company specialising in the delivery of complex, multilingual voice-overs and translations.
We do a LOT more than just cast and supply voice actors for solo recordings. We don’t ‘represent’ voice actors like an agent, and we don’t make a flat percentage on their rates. If we had this business model, we’d have to get every voice actor to sign a contract with us, and we’d also expect a cut of ALL their work. Of course, this isn’t how we’re set up: we agree on a budget for all production work with our customers, often including voice-over services.
Here's a quick case study to show how we all fit into the bigger picture.
Imagine: A successful technology company is commissioning a creative agency to promote its new software product. The marketing director, responsible for high-level strategies, is accountable for choosing the best agency for the job. A lot of money is involved at this level, and their job is on the line if they fail to meet the business objectives. They invite various creative agencies to pitch for the work, some of which they've worked with previously. For the agencies, this is already a win.
They might have invested months, or even years, nurturing the relationship to get the invite. Now the creative agencies must prepare for the pitch. They'll provide a brief that covers the budget available and the campaign's objectives. How the goals are met is often complex, and the creative agencies will need a highly experienced team of creatives to break down how they should spend the budget.
A small part of the campaign may include an online video or paid social media ads. They may have to pay thousands to create the pitch itself. The pitch cost is part of their 'cost of sale', but the highest price is the staff involved. And this is still just a pitch.
They've probably got a 10-20% chance of winning the contract! The creative agency may have had to field pitches from myriad designers and creative agencies to help them craft the ultimate winning creative. Some agencies even put together an entire video mock-up with a voice-over recorded on the cheap.
Let's say they win the pitch, and video content represents £10k of the overall budget agreed. The video content will include a voice-over. This work is then sub-contracted by the creative agency to a video production company for £5k.
Now we're already two steps removed from the giant technology company making the actual product.
The £5k profit the agency makes here helps them to cover all the resources required to win the pitch. £5k represents an O.K budget for a short corporate video. Many customers spend less than a tenth of this on quick social videos, but it doesn't stretch very far. Possibly a 1-day shoot with a small crew and a couple of days video edit. How much do you think will be left? It's not a lot.
Let's say they've allowed a few hundred pounds in the budget for voice-over, but they're up against it and don't have time to reach out to voices themselves, so they contact a voice-over agency like Voquent for help. A typical scenario, and in this scenario, we're already removed three times from the end client.
The total budget for the project will never reflect the amount after it has trickled through these various necessary parties who are all collectively involved in the production.
So, we get a vague brief about the usage and a similarly vague brief about the required voice.
"American Adult male or female voices, please".
Uhm, I think we'll need to narrow that down.
It gets uncomfortable when the client tells us they've got a set budget and 'according to this third-party rate card X' that's a fair rate to pay.
Well, madam/sir, it might be a fair rate to pay a freelance voice actor directly, but it's not a reasonable rate to offer a production company like Voquent. We've got overheads too! A lot of overheads.
It costs us hundreds in Marketing spend to generate one enquiry. Of course, we hope to build a long-lasting relationship and do repeat work with the video production company. But we also need to cover our studio and production time.
As quick as the Voquent Demo Sample system is, it still takes time to shortlist the right voices. Then, make contact to check availability and then produce and deliver the audio to a professional standard—particularly when it's for a video that needs translation, transcription and voiced in twenty or more languages.
So now we're contacting voices, and they have questions (which we encourage, as mentioned above!). The voice talent wants a usage fee because it's "online". We try to explain to the customer what this means, but their confused expression with the statement "isn't everything online?" quickly tells us they don't understand, and we're starting to irritate them with the questions.
Voquent takes a great deal of time to educate people about this subject, but it's not always the easiest thing to do when they're up against challenging deadlines. One reason why many customers resort to posting the project on a freelancing platform or job board. It keeps the cost down but allows for the promotion of work at less than union rates whilst simultaneously sacrificing the agency benefits of a curated casting service and audio quality assurance.
These P2P sites, with all the info in the open, also make it easier for a voice actor to undercut the rates of another and ensure they get the job over someone else. An agency will offer a fair and equal rate to all the voices based on the value of the project.
And this is where it gets tricky for us.
As we explain the job and usage to the voice actor, we'll often get responses like this: "According to this third-party rate card, I should get an additional usage fee of 400% of my session fee because it's online. They are a big company so that they can afford it."
Unfortunately, as an agency, we're now put in the position of being the bad guy to either the customer or to the voice actor, and in some cases, both.
If the budget isn't meeting aspirational and desirable rates, do we risk alienating our potential customers further by making excessive demands on the rate? If the rate is fair and the customer isn't willing to book a specific voice at any cost, it is easier for everyone to reach out to other voice actors. From the video production companies' point of view, their margins are minuscule, and the voice-over represents a considerable portion of the budget. Usually, they try to insist that we find a voice that will agree to the budget. So now, an ideally suited voice actor has probably lost the job because a third-party rate card told them they should be getting this specific rate - otherwise, they are being exploited? Even so much as £50 less than that is unacceptable. And this is because the voice actor often hasn't considered the other parties involved in the production process. The value they've placed on their voice-over becomes inflated to a point where it's above the actual market value and ultimately perpetuates the exploitation of other workers and creatives at different stages of the project's chain people who work for the agency.
Think about this. The whole industry would collapse overnight if the basic fee for an audio engineer were the same as voice talent (without usage). The average engineer will have just as much skill and experience as the average voice artist! Sure, the end customer, way down the line, might have had the budget to pay the higher fee directly. But the agencies in between are the ones that have provided the opportunity, and they need to be compensated fairly. It's improbable a talent will have got that opportunity without their assistance.
Corporations rarely contract creatives directly unless they have an internal agency. Their procurement processes can make it very difficult to set up individual jobs with freelancers, even if they do. They can end up delaying payments for months. Many voice actors also don't appreciate that they are often the most expensive sub-contractor in the entire process.
An audio engineer typically makes the equivalent in a DAY what a voice actor makes in an HOUR. And a video producer's DAY rate is often equivalent to 2 HOURS of voice-over work. We know that a voice actor's value represents much more than just their time spent recording. The fee is based on their experience, years of training and the value their voice adds to the product. But this also needs to apply to every other creative contractor or agency in the process.
All the above is why collectively and formally negotiated, and agreed rates are so important. A third-party rate card can't serve as a good guide without a collective agreement underpinning it. Without this collective agreement, it is nothing more than a suggestion. And, if it's generated by a separate private company, rather than a democratically controlled body, there is no oversight, and they could have all sorts of nefarious reasons for arbitrarily setting rates to a certain level, such as collecting subscription fees.
Working with other trade unions worldwide and even other sectors of the same unions can be a great way to ensure fair and balanced rates to ensure the industry works for everyone.
Most voice actors in North America are in SAG-AFTRA and the UK in Equity. Most of the other freelancers, subcontractors, and even many of the staff in the industry in the UK, are represented by Equity's sister union, BECTU, or IATSE in the USA.
It can sometimes be a struggle to ensure rates remain fair across the industry. Working together is always the best way to achieve that, as has been the case throughout history.
At Voquent, we always pay fair rates. Every contractor at every stage, before and after the voice-over recording. We will always push back against a client trying to exploit the voice artist or us, but that's not because we're adhering to an arbitrary number set by different agencies or private companies seeking to extract user subscriptions by telling people they are worth more. We're experienced producers on the frontline every day, and we know what fair market rates are. So, please don't try to educate our team if we've offered you a rate below what you expect. And don't be offended. Just tell us politely what you want, and we'll see if we can do it. Remember that we're often in a bidding situation with other agencies and even freelancing platforms, so if we push the rate too high, we will undoubtedly lose the job entirely.
The voice-over industry is saturated with talent and agencies and production companies exist as a necessary resource and filter. There are always going to be exceptions but the majority of these companies, including Voquent, actually ensure that rates and terms always remain fair.
Working together is more successful than working alone.
These points will aid you well if you're seeking regular, repeat work with multiple agencies and over time, you will hopefully be able to build up and sustain your own pool of direct clients that offer consistent work at generous rates and pay quickly.