Learn how a pragmatic outlook to YouTube voice-over work offers a repeat revenue opportunity for voice actors of all skill levels.
Here at Voquent, we’ve never claimed to be the be-all of voice-over work. Our unique approach and focus on higher-end corporate and commercial work right now, means we don’t yet offer voice actors the sheer volume of lower value opportunities available on some other platforms. Whilst it’s free to join Voquent there is no guarantee you will be shortlisted for a project. Even, after you’ve optimised your profile with your best demos there isn’t much else to do other than sitting back, fingers crossed!
Repeat work opportunities in the voice-over industry are hard to come by. So when we saw the down-to-earth advice offered by experienced voice actor and YouTuber Neil Glasgow, we simply had to sit down with him to learn more.
Whilst Voquent has never advocated lower-paid gigs, Neil’s story is a fascinating insight into the journey that’s helped him become a seasoned performer. His candid thoughts and advice offers just one of many developing in-roads into a highly lucrative and rewarding career as an experienced voice over professional.
There are vast and growing opportunities for voice actors to get repeat work voicing audiobooks, education and YouTube videos. They don’t pay the ‘industry-standard rates’ you may be used to for commercial work, but they do offer a reliable source of income. Over to Neil to explain how to get started.
Q: Hi Neil, tell us a bit about your background. How did you get started in voice-over?
Neil: I started in voice-over shortly after the banking crash in the 2000s. I had just finished my theatre degree, and work was proving difficult to come by. As most people did, I started working a job that was outside of acting to make ends meet. People always told me that I had a “great voice” (not essential to be a voice-over) and that I should consider voice acting. It was a wonderful thing to hear, but I had no idea how I would even go about getting involved. Remember, this was before the days of just jumping onto YouTube and watching someone walk you through the steps!
I eventually (on a mildly drunken night) ordered myself a microphone, pop filter and stand, which I promptly forgot about until a week or so later it turned up at my house, an early form of amazon-esia (laughs).
Since I had the gear and no idea, I just threw myself into it. I started calling other people in the industry, asking them if I could pick their brains on what to do and where to look for work. Thinking back on it now, it was a great learning experience, but I do cringe at the memory of some random person going, “I’ve been told I have a good voice and I have a microphone…”.
Thankfully, after MUCH trial and error, I created my demo – yikes! I thought it was good, honestly, but now listening back to what I made AND sent out, I probably burned many bridges. Fast forward a decade, and I have been producing voice-over on and off while also building my “primary” business – talent development. I help companies to create development programmes to take low or no-skilled individuals to become highly qualified workers. I focus on working with people with a neuro-diversity. In my last contract, I worked to bring in hundreds of people with autism, asperges etc., into one of the UK’s most extensive and most recognised brands. I am proud of that work, but then Covid-19 hit. The pandemic decimated my primary business. Companies are not doing talent development when they are laying off swathes of their workforce.
With my regular work now gone, I turned to VO full time.
Q: How did you get started with YouTube voice-over work?
Neil: Like every other industry, the arts had been affected by Covid-19. My regular clients were not producing what they used to and certainly not to the levels they once were. I got started on YouTube mainly by accident. I was approached by a now long-standing client looking to launch a tech channel.
They own the channel and hire scriptwriters, VO talent and video editors. When they contacted me, they were very upfront and honest and told me their goals, what they wanted to record and their budget.
For this client, starting, I was getting about $8 per 10 minutes of VO. It sounds super low, but I had time on my hands, and I don’t do “being bored” very well. After a couple of weeks, they asked me how many videos could I handle a week. I told them, “as many as you can make! ” Fast forward, and I record about 80 VOs for that client every month. Over a month, I probably dedicate one entire “day” worth of time to this client, netting me roughly $680 per month. That’s not a bad gig when you break it down for a day rate for any “normal” job. So I started to actively look for these clients and build YouTube voice-over work into my regular business model.
Q: Where do you book most of these jobs, and what do they pay on average per word or minute?
Neil: There are a few places you can go to to look for YouTube voice-over work. It’s low rates make it ideal for freelance sites like Freelancer.com, Fiverr, Upwork etc.
Daily, I see new requests for VO talent for start-up channels. That is something to keep in mind. These are not the million subscriber pages that are looking for people. In my experience, these are USUALLY people who don’t speak English as their native language. And they have a minimal budget.
The clients that I usually engage have some idea of what they want and what the videos should sound like, but you need to be helpful yet clear. You are the pro voice actor, after all. I have seen many adverts and offers to say, “I have a 2000 word script which should be 4-6 minutes in duration and a budget of $5”. Now anyone who has done any narration before will know:
- a) a 2000-word script is closer to 15-18 minutes of audio
- b) it will take you no less than 15-18 min to read, assuming you make zero mistakes (unlikely).
- b) your editing time, if you are very quick, might be five minutes+.
So what you as the VO need to think about is for my 20-25 minutes ‘is $5 a worthwhile rate?’.
Keeping in mind that many platforms take a 20% cut. That $5 erodes to $4, but then I also lose on the currency conversion to GBP, ending up with around £2.82.
I would not work at that rate.
The above is a real but atypical example. Most requests fall in the 600–1600 word range and pay $10-20 per script. Some clients pay more than $20 per 500 words.
Once you build and cultivate your client’s relationship, you can increase the rates.
Q: What types of videos are you narrating? Do you see any trends?
Neil: I work with everything from tech review (buggies and toasters), Tesla and engineering channels; Phycology channels, mini audiobooks channels, and loads more. The market is as diverse as YouTube as a platform, which is brilliant because it is always (usually) something new to VO.
I wouldn’t say I have identified any specific trends beyond the upsurge in new YouTube channels launching. With the globe on lockdown, YouTube saw a massive increase in content and, more importantly, content creators. There is an endless stream of new channels that need a voice-over. It inspired me to start my YouTube channel, which aims to help people become voice-over artists.
Related: How to Add Voice-Over to Video
Q: What advice can you offer someone aspiring to do YouTube voice-over work full-time?
Neil: Collaborate, diversify and remember, this is still acting (yes, VO is acting!).
Collaborate: Working with channels based worldwide, you will sometimes come across scripts that just don’t read well. The writer may not be fluent in English. They may be a lousy writer, or, sometimes, the script will have been poorly translated via a machine translation tool. Shoot me – but our jobs as VO’s are to bring these scripts to life.
We have all heard terrible VO on YouTube. Where the person sounds monotone or the mic is cheap. Now, you have a choice. You can read as written, OR, you can CONSTUCTIVLEY go back to your client and let them know where they can make improvements.
You could offer some script editing services (at a small extra charge), or any other suggestions you feel will improve the content and ultimately the channels’ success. The Client – VO relationship is not a parent-child; its an important thing to remember no matter how experienced you are. You should always have a collaborative relationship and still, be empowered to say “no thank you” to a client and walk away if they won’t collaborate.
Diversify: working on YouTube and with YouTube creators can be a boom-and-bust endeavour. Some channels succeed while other channels quickly fail. Some channels may initially create ten videos a week and then move to one!
I would always recommend that every VO spends some time looking for new clients on YouTube or just in general. You can never bank that the money you are enjoying now will always be there. If you can take on more, then do.
VO is still acting: Our jobs are to bring the script to life. Some channels you come across have a specific subject like gaming, for example, where there is one big story that lasts for a week or a month. As the VO, you might get ten scripts covering the same subject; five of those scripts might say the same thing, word for word. Our job is still to bring that to life, no matter how repetitive it may be.
You may work on a script that gives serial numbers to plumbing parts (not a made-up thing), and you have to deliver each line with gusto. It can be hard to stay enthused when you have those days, but that’s the job. Treat every $5 YouTube voice-over client the same way you would a $500 client, and I promise you will get booked time and again.
Q: What can you do to maximise your profits on YouTube?
Neil: I have found it is all about time management. I try to record in bulk on a single day, about 7-10 YouTube Voice-Over jobs. Then I crack on with auditions or other VO work I have booked. I will then come back later that day – if my brain hasn’t melted – or most likely the following day and do my editing before submitting the audio to the client.
I find this approach works well for me because when I have scripts that I make many mistakes on, I get irritated with myself and its less of a burden to come back the following day or a few hours later feeling more refreshed and whip through my edits.
Recording and editing this way means that I can knock out 30+ videos in just 2-3 days of work, and I still have time to do my more lucrative VO work.
Again, it is REALLY IMPORTANT to collaborate with your client. If they want seven videos a week, don’t have them send you one a day. I ask my clients to send me everything on a Monday, and I have it back to them by the following Monday. That way, I have time to move things around if required. For them, they get seven finished pieces of audio they can release over the next week. If you do this with multiple clients, your income will soar.
Q: Tell us a bit about your process for recording a voice-over for a YouTube video. What happens after you get the script?
Neil: It depends on the client. Some clients need no editing help and already know the tone they want. So’ I can sight read the script for them (I love those jobs). Other clients need more support, which may mean that I need to factor in more time to edit the script before recording.
The reality is that unless you are narrating for a character-based channel, you will 90% of the time be doing a site read for your YouTube channels which is one the best bit about it. Not only does it help you develop that skill, but you don’t need to memorise the script before jumping in.
The most important thing to remember is the tone of your clients’ channel. So what I mean by that is: am I reading about the latest watch and telling you all the links to buy this fantastic super-duper gadget “BUY BUY BUY!” Or, in stark contrast, am I talking about things you could do to escape abuse in your home?
Every channel has an audience they are trying to reach, and there is a growing “YouTube” voice that I see and hear all the time. Think of it as the new anchors’ voice. A news anchor has a specific authoritative style, and YouTube has its conversational tone.
Know your client and know the audience they want to reach and check in with them and make sure that you are meeting their expectations.
Q: What information do you find is critical to know before agreeing to a job or recording?
Neil: I suppose that feeds into some of my other points. You need to know:
- their expectations
- turnaround time
- videos per week or month
- expected durations
- target audience
- rate of pay
I would also recommend that you have a monetisation conversation. So this is where a new channel starts to earn money – around 1000 subscribers (natural subscribers not paid for ones). When that channel begins to make money, you can increase your rates.
As the channel grows, you grow your earnings with it.
Q: Great tip! What equipment, tools and apps do you use for the recording and editing?
Neil: I try to keep my set-up as basic as possible. My microphone of choice is a Lewitt 540 Subzero. It works well with my voice, and I don’t have to do a lot in my DAW to get the sound that I like.
I use Reaper as my DAW. It is mainly a DAW for musicians but its incredibly customisable and fantastic for VO once you have your settings locked in.
My most significant bit of kit is my sound booth. The environment you record in is critical to get right.
I started recording voice-over in a pillow fort, and after years of saving, I invested in a dedicated sound booth. Having that space to work and record makes more difference to my sound than any mic, preamp, or effects ever could.
I actively avoid things like de-clickers, de-essers, EQ plugins etc. For me, de-anything is USUALLY something that is about training and technique.
Again, when it comes to EQ and compressors, these are not a massive part of my day-to-day recording. I use a very light compressor and next to no EQ. When I do use any tools or effects, they are at the client’s request, and again, they will usually tell me what setting to use.
Q: What YouTubers do you admire most and why?
Neil: That’s a tough one. I suppose the ones I admire are the content creators that are not the “look at me” people. YouTube has so many creators that will tease a tiny bit of information that you might be interested in, but they waffle on for 10 minutes to give you 5% of what you hoped to learn and then plug some other “look at me thing”.
The channels that I tend to enjoy watching are people who are giving away their knowledge and expertise for free because, you know what, some people might need that help. There is a Channel called SORTEDfood that my wife and I watch, and this is just a bunch of guys who met at uni and started a cooking channel.
They had one friend who was a trained chef, and the rest were just “normals” and aimed at people who either don’t know how to cook or, like me, love to cook but just like good food. They have a great friendship dynamic on the channel, and it shines through.
Another I admire is Booth Junkie. The channel owner, Mike, started the channel (which is incredibly successful) after he documented building his recording booth.
The channel grew into microphone and equipment reviews, and again he is just telling you, warts and all, if he thinks something is good or not. I admire and gravitate toward channels and people who help others out just because they are in a position to do so.
We’ve taken some criticism from established voice actors for sharing this article. Listen, we know that veteran voice actors are not going to rebuild their careers as YouTuber narrators, selling their work at a fraction of their standard rates. Yet, everyone has to start somewhere, and we deeply respect every performing talent, regardless of where they started or how their rates increase over time.
The digital revolution, driven by platforms like YouTube demonstrates one avenue that aspiring voice actors can use to gain legitimate experience. YouTube channels will rarely pay industry-standard VO rates but successful voice-over careers are built on such foundations. We felt it essential to share Neil’s advice knowing that it may resonate with some in our community looking for repeat revenue opportunities or to gain more experience with long-form content.
Al Black (Voquent Co-Founder)