We understand. Getting into voice acting can seem like a daunting prospect for first-timers. Freelancing, setting your own hours, getting clients — all of these can be hard to understand on your own. But, if we had to rank the #1 question about voice acting, it would be “How much does it pay?” Reading scripts for money — as crude as it may sound — is actually quite a profitable endeavor. Below, we’ll tell you a bit more about how much you can expect to get paid per project, what the industry top dogs make, and much more!
Reading Scripts for Money – The Basics
So, you say you want to be a voice actor, right? Good on ya! If you’ve got an independent spirit and a distinctive voice, it’s a job that allows for a very flexible schedule while making wads of cash. True, not everything is rose-colored; voice acting is hard, demanding work that will require you to put your best foot forward every time. You’ll have to learn how to polish your instrument and keep it in good shape, be your own PR machine, and learn to live with boom and bust cycles before you develop a reliable client base.
But, if you manage to overcome the inevitable growing pains, it’s a really well-paid job that affords a great deal of freedom. The best part? While it doesn’t hurt to have training, you don’t even have to go to school to become a great actor! Sure, you’ll have to hone your craft and avoid resting on your laurels, but the barrier of entry is very low. You’ll just need:
- A great voice. It can either be a distinctive, one-of-a-kind type that makes you super recognizable, or you can be a chameleon, a person of a thousand voices.
- The right tools. A microphone, a home studio (or a quiet place), and audio editing software.
- Some pep in your step and a can-do attitude.
- The right contacts (more on that later).
So, How Much Money Will I Make?
The short answer is: “It depends.” Reading scripts for money works on a per-project basis, which means your income will change depending on your choice of projects. And, well, the projects you get hired for as well. While we all would love to get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode (a-la the main cast of The Simpsons), that’s not exactly the type of income the regular voice actor makes.
That means that voice acting is an industry with highly variable wages. The range of salaries can be enormous, and it generally depends on the size and scope of the project, as well as the type of client you’re working for. In plain English, a mom-and-pop store trying to get their first 15-second radio ad out of the door is not going to pay as much as a giant chain of hamburger stores for a spot, right? The first may net you a measly $100 (but you’ll have worked all of 2 hours), and the second could see you pocketing over $10,000. Whichever way things go, that’s not bad!
The main thing you’re going to have to keep in mind is a simple rule of thumb: the more well-known you get, the greater your access to big gigs. Since reading scripts for money is essentially a form of freelancing, you’ll have to steadily work your way up the ranks. But the main takeaway from the previous example is also a positive one; no matter how low the rung of the ladder you start on, the pay is still good.
Reading Scripts for Money: Reference Values
Let’s take a look at some more reference values to understand the variability issue when it comes to voice acting. You’ll see that it is repeated across the board, pretty much. Let’s take a look at cartoons, for example.
If you play a part in a small, 15-second animation, you should expect around $100. If you play the lead in an animated short, expect $10000 or over. Of course, things change the more you move up in the world; Beyonce made between 15 to 25 million dollars for playing Nala in the Lion King Remake. That’s not too shabby a paycheck if you ask us.
Audiobooks can be much the same. If you’re just starting out and working for a basement-office publisher, rates can be pretty bad — as low as $20 per finished hour of audio. Of course, if you work with more reliable, reputable brands, rates go up, you can expect the standard audiobook rate to be $200-300 per finished hour of audio. What does “finished hour” mean? Recording narration means you’ll also have to edit each clip for quality. That means snipping coughs, clicks, and extraneous noises to create homogeneity in the sound. In the end, every hour can take you between 2-3 hours of work. That’s not too bad considering you could earn over $1500 per book, is it?
Always keep in mind that these are reference rates, though. Some projects may go much higher, some much lower. Remember to never take jobs you feel unqualified for, or where the rates are too low. Knowing your limits and maintaining your dignity are two keys to longevity in this industry.
Broadcast vs Non-Broadcast: Rates Vary
Another big difference when reading scripts for money is the final objective of your work. Video games, eLearning material, audiobooks, etc., count as non-broadcasting projects. For instance, a video game project that’s between 4000 to 6000 words should net you a cool $1000. Always keep in mind that these are suggested rates, and actual ones could be higher or lower depending on your level of experience and the creator’s budget.
If your content is meant for broadcasting (TV, radio, streaming, ads), things change. With broadcast, many actors sign agreements to receive a part of the voice over’s market distribution and usage. The larger the market distribution, the bigger your pay at the end. A two-minute recording for a local broadcasting station that runs for 13 weeks has a suggested budget of $500-749. If they’ve got a bigger audience, it’s an even bigger paycheck.
Reading Scripts for Money: Copyright
Now, the previous point always has to be discussed before moving on. If you’re working in a freelancing platform, or under certain contracts, you veto your right to your work’s copyright. Typically, there are five rights associated with copyright. Here they are, as per our article “Voice over Copyright: Who Owns What, Now?!“:
- Reproduce a particular work or intellectual property in any form, language or medium. This includes translations, etc.
- Adapt the work, or derive further works from it. Think about the myriad Dracula or Sherlock Holmes adaptations and versions (the IP has been public for a while now). Spinoffs are a great way to think about deriving work from a preexisting one in everyday terms.
- Make and distribute copies as the owner of the IP sees fit. This is self-explanatory; you can sell, give away, copy, and do as you please with your intellectual property.
- Perform it in public. Imagine a theater play or any other similar artistic endeavor that requires an audience.
- To display or exhibit it in public. I just don’t recommend you do this with the minutes of your last shareholder’s meeting.
Essentially, the most common factors in voice acting licensing depend on some variables:
- The number of geographical locations the content will be used in.
- How many people will have access to the finished product?
- The number of platforms that the media will be used or displayed.
- The extent of time the duration will be granted for.
These drive the cost of copyright (and the final value of your work) up or down. But, now we have to talk about:
The Copyright Buyout Model
You see, with the advent of the digital age, brands want more and more control. With every little bit of media having a potential audience of millions, the game changes:
An ever-growing number of clients are looking to buy out the voice-over copyright for good. Departing from the 1-2 year model, this gives clients the right to use, reproduce, and alter the original as much as they see fit. It’s not hard to see with this irks some freelance voice artists, as they no longer have absolute control. Some also perceive this trend as exploitative, since professionals no longer get paid according to how well an ad does, for example.
If an ad did well and a company wanted to keep it running, there was only one option; they would go to the voice pro and say “we want to keep this campaign going for another year.” They’d pay the extended usage fee, and that was it. This will no longer fly, as agencies and outsourcing platforms are favoring a more client-centric approach.
Forearmed is forewarned. When reading scripts for money, expect most platforms to favor the client. That means that unless you work out your own deal, you’ll typically be rescinding your copyright. That’s not too bad, though, considering most clients still pay excellent rates. Considering the average annual pay for a voice actor in the US is over $76,000, that’s nothing to cry about.
Always remember that voice acting is a job with a highly variable pay rate. What was a very lucrative deal with a previous client may not be so much with someone’s who’s a little stingier. Typically, though, you’ll work your way up through positive word of mouth and reviews. That’s true for every type of work, but doubly so in the case of any freelancing.
At first, you may have to take jobs that are suited for less experienced actors, but you’ll build your confidence over time. Then, what started out as a trickle will become a flood, and you’ll have more work on your hands than you can manage. And then, it’s off to the races!
If you’re interested in getting reliable, high-paying work, you could do a lot worse than signing up with Bunny Studio. We take care of our own, as our ever-growing roster of over 48,000 voice actors stands as a testimony to. We’ll make sure to take that pesky marketing stuff out of your hands by listing you on our website. Then, if a client wants to check you out, they’ll have access to several high-quality samples to see if you’re right for the job. You’ll just take care of what you do best: awesome voice-over work.
If you want to up your game, we’ll be here for you! Do away with all that pesky self-promotion, allow us to take care of you, and let the good times roll!