How much should you pay voice actors for working on your project?
If you’re a content creator hiring a voice actor for the first time. you might feel overwhelmed trying to figure out how much you should pay.
The answer to this question is not one-size-fits-all. A respectable voice acting salary varies by a huge amount depending on several different factors.
Therein lies the problem.
You may already know that many voice actors prefer to be paid at least a portion of their fees up front, before recording even begins. And, if you want a highly reputable actor to take on the job, you can expect to pay a larger proportion up front than you would with a less-experienced freelancer.
But how are you supposed to budget appropriately for expenses before you hire a voice actor if you have no idea how much it might cost?
Such is the dilemma of content creators everywhere.
Sure, you could waste time contacting dozens of potential voice actors and asking how much they charge. After a while, you may have enough data points to judge for yourself which actors are higher- or lower-end based on their requested salary. However, this requires a lot of effort, research, and guesswork on your part.
In the long run, this strategy will cost you.
From a standpoint of professionalism alone, you will be able to draw in higher-profile voice actors and walk away with better deals if you go into a contract negotiation with a firm grasp on how much each service is truly worth and how much you would be willing to pay for top-level talent.
This post will break down many of the influencing factors so you can get an idea of how much it will cost to have your project professionally recorded.
But if you prefer to watch a video instead, click here:
What is the average voice acting salary?
Though we have already established that the cost of hiring a voice actor will vary widely, you can a good general idea to start with just by looking at the national average.
Ziprecruiter has already done the work for you in this case.
They break down the following metrics regarding average annual pay for voice actors:
(These numbers are up to date as of February 2020, though you should expect the statistics to fluctuate as new data gets added).
- The average voice acting salary in the United States is $76,325. This reflects the yearly mean pay that voice actors across all categories receive. Keep in mind, this metric can mislead you into thinking average means common. However, since this number takes into account both the frequency of very high earners and the frequency of very low earners, this single figure lacks necessary context. If you were to ask ten different voice actors how much they earn on an annual basis, few would likely give an answer near the $76,000 mark. Here’s why:
- Ziprecruiter estimates that the highest-paid voice actors bring in around $217,000 per year.
- They appear to have omitted the ridiculously well-paid outliers from their statistics. Just as an example, a few voice actors from The Simpsons get paid $300,000 for recording a single episode.
- Ziprecruiter also sampled some lower-earning actors who made only $13,500.
- In an effort to include some context, they estimate a voice acting salary of $22,500 to be around the 25th percentile mark.
- Similarly, an annual salary of $113,000 falls at the 75th percentile mark.
As you can see, voice actors have an extremely wide range of salaries.
To complicate matters further, most voice actors are not permanent employees. The vast majority seek out new opportunities and get paid on an hourly or a per-project basis rather than receiving a steady and predictable annual salary. That means a voice actor’s pay could be entirely different from one year to the next, depending on how much work he or she takes on. That fluctuation further skews the data when it comes to calculating an average annual salary.
So, what do voice actors make on average per hour and per project?
The following data comes from Payscale.com:
- Voice actors earn an average hourly rate of $39.63.
- At the 10th percentile, voice actors bring in $14.79 per hour.
- An hourly rate of $198.66 is the benchmark for reaching the 90th percentile. Therefore, you can assume the top 10% of earners make much more than this hourly rate.
Per-project rates depend heavily on the scope of the work:
- An actor might only make $30 for a brief radio ad in a small market.
- Or, he could bring in up to $5000 for recording an audiobook.
What factors influence the cost of hiring a voice actor?
Almost any factor could change the amount you will pay for a voice actor. The following are the most common considerations you can count on affecting your price:
- The type of project and its technical difficulty
- Any special skills required – accents, other languages, character voices versus narration, etc.
- The length of the project – both the number of words and duration of the recording
- The rights you will hold to the finished work
- How you plan to use the recorded material
- The actor’s experience level and how established he or she is within the industry
- Whether the actor belongs to a union or not
We’ll explore the variance in scope of work as one factor that heavily influences voice actor pay.
How can you calculate the anticipated cost for a project?
One way to do this is to use a simple hourly rate calculation. Let’s use a roughly average rate of $40 per hour.
First, you will need to estimate the time it will take for a voice actor to record your script. You can do this using an estimate of your project’s word count.
On average, you can expect short scripts to take one minute for every 150 words. Therefore, a short script of 900 words would take approximately six minutes in total recording time.
Six minutes would be one-tenth of an hour. Therefore, you might assume $40/10 = $4 for the recording of this short script.
However, this is likely not accurate in reality.
Additional costs will vary based on the voice actor you hire:
- In addition to the four minutes of recording, you will need to cover your voice actor’s time for vocal warm-ups, setup, and any other overhead they may require. For some voice actors, these fees can add up quickly.
- Some actors require a minimum payment for a project to be worth their time. For example, one actor may charge a minimum of half an hour, while another might charge a minimum of one hour. So, even if your hourly calculation comes in at $4, you would be charged $20 or $40 at a minimum.
As another example…
Let’s take a much bigger project scope, with a lot of complicating factors. Perhaps your script…
- Totals 50,000 words, the length of a decent-sized ebook
- Requires some knowledge of foreign phrases, accents, and pronunciation
- Requires the voice actor to do different voices to distinguish between characters
You might think, based on the previous example, that you can simply do 50,000 / 150 = roughly 333.3 minutes.
333.3 minutes / 60 = 5.55 hours.
5.6 hours x $40 = $224 in hourly fees.
Sounds simple, right?
However, this estimate is just that: an estimate.
Your real project fee could end up way off of your calculated estimate.
At a baseline, longer projects will cost a different rate than shorter ones. Not necessarily a higher rate (as some actors will give you a discount for large projects like this). But, it won’t necessarily be a lower rate, either (as some actors will assume larger equals more complicated, and will charge accordingly).
The best thing you can do in this scenario is to do your hourly rate calculation to decide on a voice acting salary that you would be comfortable with paying for your project.
This rate serves as a baseline or an ideal.
Then, you contact voice actors, view their auditions, and ask for their individual rate estimates. Since you’re going into the process with a figure already in your head, you will notice when a quoted fee comes back much higher or lower than expected. From there, you can make your decision on which actor to hire.
Keep in mind, sometimes higher rates do indicate higher quality and more experience. This would especially happen in the case of this example, where the script requires accents, foreign phrases, and character voices.
An experienced voice actor would likely take these factors into consideration and reflect them in his quoted rate.
So, we can extrapolate a bit further using the above numbers.
Assume that if the project will take an estimated 5.6 hours to record, you can judge a voice actor’s relative experience based on their rate.
A very new freelancer trying to get his foot in the door with his first major project might quote you just $50 in the hopes that you will take a chance on him.
You could do this. But, be aware that you will be dramatically underpaying your voice actor in comparison to the industry standard. If you take $50 and divide it by 5.6 hours, you will find that his hourly rate comes to a paltry $8.93 an hour. Ouch.
In comparison, a high-profile actor established in the industry would probably feel more comfortable charging a much higher rate. If his name carries some clout, expect his fees to hit hard.
For example, an ebook recording by a relatively well-established voice actor could cost up to $5000.
We expect the example 50,000 word script to take roughly 6 hours to record on a first draft. However, at this end of the price spectrum, you are paying for quality.
Your voice actor may record several takes of certain parts and allow you to choose your favorites. He may also offer a variety of character voices for you to choose from. All told, that $5000 fee would net you a much higher-quality, publishable product.
Up to you!
What’s the next step once you’re ready to take the plunge?
These related reading posts will walk you through some more details of the process: