How do you determine the voice acting pay scale when hiring a voice actor to do a job for you?
Is voice work something new that you or your company are considering using? How do you go about figuring out how much you should be paying? When it comes to paying a voice actor salary, there is no easy answer because of the wide range of factors that have to be taken into account.
When trying to break down how much you should be paying a voice actor, there are a number of factors that you should be taking into account that will assist your decision. We will break down the critical factors for you here to help you find the appropriate amount that you should be offering voice actors to do this important work for you.
This post has been updated in September 2021.
What is the Purpose of a Voice Actor?
Voice-over work by definition relates to any type of vocal contribution made to a project where the speaker cannot be seen. This might be required for a variety of different jobs that form part of a project you are creating.
Voice artists interpret and speak out the written word on a page to bring life to a script for a movie, commercial, documentary or radio program, or part thereof. Because the range of projects is so wide and varied, different voice actors might be suitable for different types of projects. It is crucial, therefore, to connect the right voice to the specific project you are looking to voice. Someone who is good at radio commercials may not necessarily be as good at narrating a filmed documentary.
Having a clear and defined voice is obviously a basic requirement when it comes to voice acting. But beyond that, those who are looking for voice actors want to know that the person they hire is able to convey the tone and attitude that best fits the particular job. Interpretation of the words in a script is vital to being good at voice acting. This includes determining the emotion and attitude of the piece. Are you wanting to have this piece delivered with a serious and authentic tone? Are you hoping for a more quirky or playful feel? A good voice actor will be able to pick up on these nuances which can be the difference between adequate and well-done work.
As we will see later, the amount you pay someone to do voice work will depend largely on the type of voice acting you require.
Expectation of a Voice-over Artist
When selecting a voice-over artist to do some voice acting for you, the primary focus will be on how good their voice is. Beyond that, their ability to read a script and interpret the intention of the writers plays a huge role. An instinct for understanding the tone and attitude that a piece needs to be delivered in is also of high importance. Alongside these practical aspects though, you will typically want someone who receives direction well. Because different voice acting pieces come with a range of possible feelings and emotions to be conveyed, the voice actor may need to read the piece a number of times to really nail down the wishes of the director. The dialogue being read needs to be believable in terms of the context of the piece.
A voice-over artist who is able to take direction is preferred. The likelihood of some back and forth maneuvering to figure out exactly the kind of delivery you are wanting for that specific job. So flexible, even-tempered, and able to improvise and adjust at the moment are other helpful qualities.
Given the range and scope we have looked at so far, the amount will clearly differ depending on a few specific aspects:Aspects of Voice Acting to consider
 Type of Job – A voice actor will typically be paid per job. Unless you establish a relationship with a particular voice actor this means that it will more than likely happen on a freelance basis. When you employ a voice actor you will take into account the nature of the job and the budget as well as how long it will take and adjust accordingly.
 Word Count and Length of Recording Time – The time it takes to record will obviously be a key in determining the total amount paid. A forty-second radio commercial and a documentary movie will range in time from a few minutes to hours and possibly even days, depending on the job. Thus how much of a person’s time you will be requiring will be one of the main factors.
If you know the word count for the project you are looking to find voices for, that can really help you simplify this process. Here is a formula which can help you to work that out:
- Word Count divided by Words Spoken per Minute = Total recording minutes
- Total minutes divided by an hour  = Total recording hours
- Total Hours times by Hourly Rate = Price to record
- Price per hour to edit and complete times by Hours to edit = Post Production Fee
- Total Fees = Price to record + Post Production Fee
That may seem quite obvious, but it can be so helpful to have a simple formula to do the work for you when setting budgets for a project.
 Experience of Voice Actor – The level of experience that the voice actor brings to the work will be something that helps you establish payment. Obviously a recognized celebrity will demand a much higher salary than an unknown. Having Morgan Freeman narrate your documentary on penguins adds a whole extra element of depth and class and will obviously be worth more. Your overall budget at the beginning of a project will determine where on the scale of experience you are able to hire.
 Repeat work – Once you have worked with someone that produces a good product for you, it is a lot easier to bring them in again for future work. When it comes to voice acting, relationships are key in this regard as they remove a lot of the unknowns that exist when working with someone new. Which is why it is easier for those who do a good job to find more work as word travels. It is worth paying someone a little bit more knowing the type of voice acting you will get from them over the experience of trying someone who you haven’t worked with before.
 Union or non-Union – Depending on what country you are doing the work in, you may need to comply with Union standards and so it is helpful for you to do the research on this. In the United States, for example, the Union in question is called SAG AFTRA whereas in Canada you may need to deal with the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists [ACTRA].
 Agency fees – The majority of voice actors will work through an agency and so you will not likely deal with them directly. This does mean though that you should be able to anticipate a certain level of professionalism and the budget you have may help determine the nature of the agency that you look to for sourcing your voices.
You need to take all of these aspects into consideration when drawing up the budget for your project or if you have already been given a budget to work with. The more you work with voice actors, the more natural this aspect of it will become and you will start to develop instincts around what you can and can’t offer.
What should I pay for Voice Acting?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that in 2018, actors made on average $17.50 per hour, and radio and television announcers had an average salary of $33, 220.
There are freelancing sites where you will be able to find voice actors to work for as little as $30 for a small job and well-known movie actors who are worth millions. The majority of professional voice actors will fall somewhere in between those two extremes.
To give you an estimate of what you might expect to pay, a small radio spot should be around $35, a 15-second recording for a small website between $130 and $170, between $250 and $350 for a 30-second radio commercial that is aimed at a more sizeable market [which you will need to add usage fees to] and around $2000 to $5000 for an audiobook as someone who is an established talent in that area.
Beyond time taken/word count, you will need to take into consideration what the use of the material is going to be: whether or not you are going to be using the material for a specific duration in specific spaces or if you are granting a fee for universal usage.
For longer jobs, you may move from the idea of an hourly rate to something known as a block rate where you divide time into days or half days. A job that looks set to take two-and-a-half days at a rate of $700 for a day and $350 for a half-day would be around $1750.
These figures should only be considered as an indication as actual figures will also vary based on the country or even state. But hopefully, this has given you a rough idea of what you can expect to pay when looking to work with voice actors as well as some guidelines to keep in mind about the whole process. The more you engage in this kind of work the easier it will become as you start to figure out what is on offer and begin working with some voice actors.
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Let the voice work commence.