Caroline Turner Cole explores the subject of buy-outs and usage fees for voice-over work.
As the video marketing industry continues to explode across the Internet, many terms are used interchangeably (or incorrectly). Content is now immediately digitized and accessible and understanding fair rates for broadcast and commercial voice-over work is complex. Combined with misinformed talents and naive clients, industry jargon is misused, and confusion abounds.
Today, with Voquent’s Al Black, I’ll wade through the muddy waters of voice-over definitions and terminology to clearly explain:
- usage fees
- basic session fees (BSF)
- commercial rights
- broadcast rights
It’s a lot to tackle, so we’ll do a fair amount of skating over the surface.
When hiring voice-over talent, it’s essential to understand that there are usually two distinct types of fees involved:
- Basic Session Fees
- Usage Fees
Basic Session Fees
Essentially, a Basic Session Fee (also known throughout the industry as the BSF, Scale or simply the “session fee”) compensates artists for the time they spend creating the product.
For example, attending a recording studio for 2 hours is a 2-hour session fee.
The session fee varies per artist based on their experience, ability and availability. Session fees can range a lot, from $50 to $500 per hour of the artists’ time.
RELATED: What is a Basic Session Fee?
Japanese Voice Actor Ikumi recording in a voice-over recording session. This will be paid as a basic session fee (BSF) for the time spent in the studio.
Usage fees are often referred to as licensing fees or a buy-out fee and are paid to the performer to compensate them for the value they add to the project over a defined period. Often they come wrapped up as a package price, which includes session fees AND usage fees combined.
Within usage fees (aka licensing fees or buy-out rates), there are many different layers, which would be impossible to entirely go into here (or probably ever) as it can vary so drastically from project to project.
The basic principle is that usage fees INCREASE when the number of people who hear the voice-over or see the video also INCREASES.
Bigger audiences = higher fees.
If you’re using the voice-over internally within your company as a training video, or for non-profit educational purposes, for instance – the usage fees will be negligible. You don’t usually need to purchase any additional rights for this type of usage.
Suppose the final product will be displayed publicly somewhere—yes, the Internet counts as public space—or used for a promotional purpose of any kind. In that case, you’ll need to make sure you’ve purchased commercial rights from the voice-over artist or agency. Rates for commercial usage can vary depending on the type of content.
ALSO READ: Why Cheap Voice-Overs Will Cost You More
If the voice-over is for a promotion or advertisement, e.g. a Facebook or Instagram promo, national TV commercial or radio spot—you’ll need to purchase broadcast rights.
Again, rates vary significantly but remember – bigger the audience = more considerable the fees. A national campaign will cost more than a regional campaign.
When Mexican Voice Actor Moy voices a commercial product such as a boosted Instagram advert, his rate is higher than an internal corporate video.
Buy-Outs vs Residuals
If you purchase the commercial or broadcast rights for a project with a voice-over artist, you will also agree on HOW LONG the usage rights last.
Anywhere from 12 weeks to 1-2 years is typical.
For example: let’s say a customer purchases the broadcast rights to use a voice-over in a local TV commercial and agrees that the spot won’t run for longer than six months. But, after six months, they realize the ad is doing well, and it’s helping them find lots of new business (woohoo!).
Instead of creating a brand-new ad (which would cost WAY more money), they may want to rerun the existing ad.
In this instance, they need to make sure the contract they’ve created with the voice-over artist has a renewal option or clause, allowing them to renew the rights to rerun the spot. These are Residual fees paid to the artist or agent.
So, they go back to the voice talent or agent and say, “Hey, we loved that ad and want to keep it running we’d like to buy another six months” – or whatever length of time – and boom, it’s agreed.
Extending the run of an advert is very quick with some forethought about renewal options. A buy-out is the most extreme option of this, allowing full use of the audio in perpetuity, forever.
This sounds like it would be the most straightforward option for the customer (and in fairness, who wants to go back to the agent or voice-over artist every six months?) and yet…
Voice talent may not want or be able to relinquish their rights.
At Voquent, we’ve seen an increasing request for voice-over rates to include a full buy-out or ‘usage in perpetuity’ agreement. It’s understandable. Customers may view it as the most straightforward option available to them because they are afraid of being prevented from using the material in the future. A reasonable concern when you factor in how easy it is to become disorganized and lose track of contracts and contact information for specific creative projects. Particularly in organizations with high staff turnover or where part of the project is sub-contracted to outside agencies.
For this reason, it’s much simpler to get a buy-out and not have to worry about it ever again. Most artists accept this as a fair method of working for internal projects or projects for small companies.
Still, when a performer is asked to agree to a lower than average fee and give away their rights in perpetuity, many argue this is simple exploitation—an attack on a talent’s rights.
If a client owns the right of usage in perpetuity, they can use the voice-over wherever and whenever they like. Not just for the Facebook ad they originally purchased it for, but also splice it into a future radio commercial. If that’s successful, maybe they decide to expand the usage to a national TV commercial! Unlikely perhaps, but possible. And it would be both unfair and unjustifiable.
A talent’s contribution continues for as long as their performance is heard. Usage rights in perpetuity give the new owner the right to use the voice whenever and wherever they want. And if a voice-over talent has only gained a few hundred bucks, that’s not a fair exchange for the permanent use of their voice audio.
Chicago-based voice-over artist Alaina is an experienced performer and knows all about fair usage.
Experienced performing talent and artists who used to be paid residuals may instantly refuse such a request. They may be a union member or subscribe to a third-party rate card.
The phrase “in perpetuity” will cause some artists to decline a contract immediately and definitively.
However, we all have to move with the times.
Video content increasingly dominates, and many videos are created with a low budget. It’s so easy to develop good quality video on the cheap.
Related: Top 54 Best Video Maker Apps
Hiring an experienced voice-over artist can look disproportionately expensive compared to the rest of the video production budget. Yet, a high-quality voice-over can significantly increase the quality and success of the project. The investment is worth it to maximize audience engagement alone.
More content is produced now than ever before, with amateur voices clamouring for jobs using cheaper and more accessible recording equipment.
All of this contributes to a disproportionately high volume of aspiring and less experienced talent prepared to work for lower rates. This has meant a trending decline in pay, offset somewhat by an increase in more voice-over jobs.
At Voquent, we always try to educate customers about rates and usage. Still, occasionally we lose projects because they aren’t willing to stretch their budget to a level that adequately compensates the artist and production team.
We don’t blame anyone for this trend. It’s merely a symptom of global market forces at work.
The fact remains, you can waste a great deal of time and budget trying to get a voice actor cheap. We act as a bridge to ensure clients get excellent quality productions for their budgets whilst fairly compensating talent.
When the budget is set impossibly low, sometimes we have no choice but to decline politely.
Ask yourself: Do you NEED a buy-out anyway?
Of course, there are projects where it makes perfect sense to include a buy-out in the rate, e.g.
- There is limited visibility – for example: if the content is only ever going to sit on a small YouTube channel, IVR telephone system or website. Never be boosted/sponsored, and in its lifetime may only get a few thousand views—forgotten amongst the mass of disposable internet content of yesterday.
- Where the usage is difficult to predict – for example museum exhibitions, public announcements, or other recordings used in the public domain.
- Where the voice-over is part of the product – for example, toys, electronics, video games or animations.
However, for anything broadcast or promoted publically, usage fees should always be agreed. And the usage fee should be based on the intended usage and duration of the promotion.
Spending extra to purchase a complete buy-out will drive the cost up for a peace of mind that isn’t necessary.
All content has a limited lifespan. People get bored of seeing and hearing the same things becoming apathetic to any advert if they see it enough.
So please consider seeking a buy-out instead. Negotiate a usage fee based on the actual duration of the campaign and the size of the audience. It’s not only cheaper to purchase, but it’s also fairer to everyone involved.
Jamaican voice-over Actor Norbert has worked with some of the world’s top brands and is happy to negotiate the usage fees.
Remember, bigger audience = higher fees.
Sometimes creative teams don’t know the usage. We understand that.
They may still have to build turnkey quotes for their clients, including a voice-over budget without all the information.
In cases where the end client hasn’t decided on the media spend yet or which channels to target, it should be possible to give you some idea.
For example: is it a national or regional TV commercial? Is it being boosted only on Instagram or also on YouTube and Twitter?
Any reputable company will understand your needs and get the necessary information because every other vendor is in the same boat.
This way, the clients get the best talent at a great price, the audience loves the production, and everyone’s a winner!
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