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OTM Essay 2: The Inside Story on the Money You Can Earn in Voice-over

Everyone knows you can make serious money in voice-over, but not everyone knows the breakdown on how you get paid.

One thing I love about voice-over is that you are paid for your time. You show up to the studio at 9am with your script in hand and step to the mic to start working. Depending on the job you might be there for a couple minutes or for a few hours.

A commercial might mean you’re there for 5 minutes or you could be in the studio for 2 hours. If you’re voicing animation you’ll want to free up about 4 hours of your schedule, and a narration can be taking 30 minutes to work on a corporate/training video or you might be there for 4 hours lending your voice to a documentary series or movie.

But the best part? When your work is done – you can go! The only reason for you to hang around is for client approval, but as long as you got the thumbs up you can be on your way! They pay you for your time, which means you aren’t waiting around before you get to the mic or after. Working in voice-over means you can start at 8AM and go all the way to 6PM. That’s 10 hours worth of earnings in a day. I know people on contract for networks, radio, and TV stations that are working around the clock and being paid very well for it.

Not only are you being compensated handsomely for your work, but you can also book multiple jobs in a day. I know plenty of people who’ve scheduled 4 bookings in a single day. The work is there, but how much are you getting paid for it? Let me break it down for you.

We’ll start with commercials. There’s a lot of factors to determine how much you’re going to be paid to voice a commercial. My agent and I always laugh because there’s always a new formula for how much I’m making on a particular job. 

The key factors are: 

  • If it’s going on radio, TV, or the internet
  • Where is it going to air? (Specifically what market? Regional? National? International?)
  • How long is it airing in the market?

Once you have this information it’ll start to become clearer how much you’ll be making. With radio and television you’ll get a single payment to cover your session and residual for how long the spot(s) will air (There’s a discount for doing multiple regional and national spots.) A commercial going on the internet is usually an add on to what you’ve already done for TV; which means you aren’t recording anything different, instead the TV spots will also be played online and usually you’ll get bought out for a year of this. The money for internet ads isn’t anything big, but is a great add on considering you aren’t doing any additional work. The actual pay can range anywhere from $400 all the one up to $100,000 for a single session of doing multiple radio or TV spots.

$400 is for doing a regional radio spot that’ll be played for 13 weeks, and $100,000 represents a US National TV Commercial airing on a major network for a year. Realistically you’ll be earning between $400 and $5,000 for a multiple commercials recorded in a single session. I could go on and on, but that covers the basics. Just remember – If you are ever approached to do a commercial ask the three key questions:

  • Radio or TV?
  • Where is it airing?
  • How long is it airing for?

Let’s talk about animation. This one is a more clear cut in terms of how much you will make. Your pay depends on if you’re a principal character or you are an actor role in the series or movie. It’s the same as TV commercials in that you get paid for the recording session and then receive a buyout. The Union Of British Columbia Performers (UBCP) currently has  200% buyout on top of your session payment that buys out your performance in perpetuity (forever). Toronto Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) does a five year buyout at 105%. Basically this means that UBCP’S is equivalent to 10 years and you get it ALL up front! 

What’s this look like in terms of cash? A principal role (10 lines or more) gets you $426.63 – plus your buyout of 200% nets you $1279.89 after a recording session of 4 hours! If you’re an actor character (9 lines or less) you’ll get $287.99 plus your 200% buyout – a grand total of $863.97 in 4 hours for one character.

So what if you do more than one character? If that’s the case you’ll get 50% of the payment for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on character(s)

I’ll give you an example: Say you are the lead in the seres and you do a couple of smaller characters. You’d get your original payment of $1279.89 plus two payments of $431.99 to cover the two additional actor role characters you did on top of your regular character. You’d be looking at a total of $2,143.86 in a 4 hour recording session. 

Do you get why there’s so much competition?

The only way this changes is if the buyout changed, like if it’s a movie the buyout might be 230% or 105% if we use the Toronto ACTRA model – (quite the difference!) – BUT this also means you’re getting residuals if it airs on television or on-line. 

Another way to get work in animation is by doing dubbing. It pays much less – but it can still add up if you are voicing a large character. A key difference is that you’ll be recording multiple episodes during one session – up to 5 episodes (usually called blocks).

In dubbing you are paid $4.21 – so doing 100 lines (at around 10 words a line) will net you $421.00. Dubbing usually takes 2 hours, but if you go over this you’ll be earning more money. The minimum payment for a 2 hour dubbing call is $222.75. At $4.21 a line that’s around 52 lines. If you go over 52 lines you’re going to make more, but if you’re under 52 lines you are guaranteed $222.75.


On to narration. There’s really two forms of payment in narration: Corporate/Training/Web Videos, or Documentary Series/Movies. I’ll cover the Corporate video side of things first. Much like commercials it all comes down to the question: “Where is this airing? (Is it a private broadcast at a meeting or tradeshow? Is it on-line? Both? Etc) How long is it airing? How long is the video, and how many lines of script? (Sometimes a video might be an hour long – but you only have 5 paragraphs to narrate, both length and number of lines need to be considered.)” Finally, you’ll want to know the size of the company. If you’re doing a video for Nike or Microsoft you’re always going to get paid more than if it’s a small regional company.

 Typically you should be paid no less than $400 for an hour’s worth of recording. The $400 covers the session and residual, it’s all just one fee for corporate video narration. 

Always make sure you ask the questions I presented. Doing so is going to help you figure out what to charge.

Typically, no matter what the video is for, the lack of eyes that see means you’re not even going to make more than $1,500 for a 30 to 60 minute video. The next option is doing a series. The rates you get paid for this is in in 10 minute intervals.

I’ll break it down for you:

  • First 10 minutes you get paid $307.25
  • The second 10 minute segment you make $249.25
  • The third 10 minute segment nets you $123.75
  • And the fourth subsequent 10 minute segments pay you $88.50

So if you were narrating a one hour series (which is about 44-48 minutes when it airs on TV) You’d be making $307.25 + $249.25 + $123.75 + $88.50 + $88.50 for a total of five 10 minute segments brining you to %851,25 for the session. After that you factor in the buyout. Buyout for a documentary is usually 50%. So we get $851.25 X 1.5 (50% buyout) = $1276.87. That would be about a 5 hour call (1 hour per episode). For every 10 minute segment the production company gets you on it for 1 hour.

If it’s a half hour series you’d be making $307.25 + $249.24 + $123.75 for a total of three 10 minute segments. That’s a total of $680.25, but don’t forget the 50% buyout, bringing the full total to $1020.38. That would be a 3 hour call to narrate the three 10 minute segments, or 3 hours per half hour episode. What’s great about this it doesn’t matter how many lines you’ve got during the segment, whether it’s 40 lines or 100 – the price for those 10 minutes stays the same. 

So there it is – the inside story on how much you can make doing voice-over in the three most popular fields! Like I said before, this is really competitive and it’s easy to see why! People love to make great money working in a creative environment. That’s why training is so important; if the people hiring you like your work, you’ll get hired again and again! 

Tune in next time for more inside information about the voice-over biz!

See you in class!

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