Written by Michael Daingerfield


It’s no secret that you can make a lot of money in voice-over.  But, I believe that most people don’t actually know specifically how well you can be paid.  

What I love about voice-over is that you are paid for your time.  You show up to the studio for a 9am session - you walk into the booth script in hand and you step up to the mic and start working.  Depending on what the job is - with commercials you can be finished anywhere between 5 minutes and 2 hours - a typical animation call is 4 hours - and narration can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours depending if it’s a corporate video/training video or a documentary series/movie.  Once you are finished working, you leave - there is no reason (unless it’s for a client approval) for you to hang around.  So you are paid for your time.  There is no waiting around before or after - which gives you the opportunity to do many jobs in one day.  The voice-over world can start recording as early as 8am and go all the way to 6pm.  That’s 10 hours in one day to have potential earnings.  And believe me there are people on contract for networks and radio/tv stations that can work around the clock, but they are paid very well for it.

So not only can you get paid well for your work - you can work many times in one day.  It’s very possible to have 4 bookings in one day, believe me it happens.  So how much exactly can you get paid in voice-over:  let’s break it down.

Commercials:  There are many many factors that determine how much you will be paid for voicing commercials - even to this day I laugh with my agent because there is always a new formula for how much I am paid for a particular job.  The key factors are whether it’s going to air on radio or TV or even internet (which is a component now of advertising) then, it’s where is it going to air (as in which market - there are regional markets, national markets and international markets) and then finally for how long will it air in each market.  Once you have all of this figured out you can start to get an idea of how much you will get paid.  With radio commercials you receive one payment which covers your session and residual for how long the spot or spots will be airing.  (There are always discounts when you do multiple spots - regionally and nationally).  With Television you are paid one fee for the recording session and then you receive another fee for the residuals.  Again there are discounts for doing multiple spots - regionally and nationally.  With the internet it’s typically an add on to what you’re already doing for TV so you won’t record anything different they’ll just play the TV spots on the internet and typically they’ll buy you out for one year for this.  The money from the internet isn’t huge but it’s a great add on for not doing any additional work.  In terms of hard numbers you can make anywhere from $400 - $100,000 dollars for one session of doing multiple radio or TV spots.  The $400 represents a regional radio spot that might play for 13 weeks, and the $100,000 dollars represents a US National TV commercial that airs on a major network for a year.  (This definitely happens - but it’s at the higher end of what is possible).  Typically you’re going to earn between $400 and $5000 for multiple commercials done in one session.  That covers the basics but we could go much further into depth on this.  If you’re ever approached to do a commercial ask the three questions.  Radio or TV?  Where is it airing (entire geographical market) and for how long will it air. 

Animation:  This is a little more clear cut in terms of how much you will make.  You are either a principal character in the series or movie or you are an actor role in the series or movie and they have different payments for both.  It’s the same as TV commercials in that you are paid for the recording session and then you receive a buyout.  UBCP currently has a 200% buyout on top of your session payment that buys out your performance in perpetuity (forever).  Toronto ACTRA does a 105% buyout and that is good for 5 years.  So UBCP’S buyout is the equivalent of 10 years and you get it all up front.  In terms of actual payment the current rates for a principal role (which is 10 lines or more) you receive $426.63 - add your 200% buyout and you’re looking at $1279.89 for a 4 hour session for one principal character.  For an actor role which is 9 lines or less you receive $287.99 - add your 200% buyout and you’re looking at $863.97 for a 4 hour session for one actor role character.  If you ever do an additional character in the episode along with your original character you will get 50% of the payment for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th character(s) and so on.  For example if you are the lead in the series but you also do a couple of smaller characters then you would get your original $1279.89 plus two payments of $431.99 to cover the two additional actor role characters you voiced on top of your regular character.  This would be a grand total of $2143.86 for a 4 hour session voicing one principal character and two actor role characters.  AND YOU WONDER WHY THIS IS SO COMPETITIVE?  The only way any of this would change is if the buyout changed, if it went either to a 230% buyout because it’s a movie or to a 105% buyout based on the Toronto ACTRA model - (you can see the difference that would make) - BUT you will get residuals if the show continues to air on television or on-line.  The other way in which you can work in animation is by doing dubbing - the payment for dubbing is much much less - but it can still add up if you have a large character.  The biggest difference is that they will record multiple episodes during one session - up to 5 episodes (they usually call them blocks).  In dubbing you are paid $4.21 per line - so if you do 100 lines (at 10 words per line btw) you will earn $421.00 and it shouldn’t take longer than two hours.  A typical dubbing call time is 2 hours, if you go over this then you will earn more money, you also earn more money if you do multiple characters.  The minimum payment for a 2 hour call in dubbing is $222.75 - if you don’t do enough lines at $4.21 per line (around 52 lines) then you will still get the $222.75, if do more than 52 lines then multiply the number of lines you do by $4.21.

Narration:  There are really two forms of payment in narration:  Corporate Video/Training Video/Web Video etc. or Documentary Series/Movie.  Let’s talk about the Corporate video side of things.  Similar to commercials this comes down to where is it airing? (private broadcast at a meeting or trade show, on-line, both, etc.)  How long is it airing?  How long is the video that you’re narrating as well as how many lines of script - sometimes the video can be an hour and you only have 5 paragraphs to narrate - so both have to be considered.  And finally the size of the company always comes into play - if you’re doing a corporate video for Nike or Microsoft you’re always going to get paid more than you would if it were for a small regional company.  Typically you should get paid no less than $400 for an hour’s worth of recording.  That’s $400 for the session and residual, it’s just one fee for corporate video narration.  So if you’re presented with a potential job then ask those 4 questions and you should know a lot more about what to charge.  Typically no matter what the corporate video is for - because of the lack of eyes that see it you’ll never get more than $1500 for a 30 to 60 minute video.  The next option is doing a series.  The rates for this work is in 10 minute intervals:  The first 10 minute segment pays $307.25, the second 10 minute segment pays $249.25, third $123.75, fourth and subsequent 10 minute segments pays $85.50.  So if you were narrating a one hour series (which is the equivalent of 44 - 48 minutes in TV land) you would make $307.25 + $249.25 + $123.75 + $85.50 + $85.50 for a total of 5/10 minute segments = $851.25 which would be for the session.  The buyout is typically 50% for a documentary series so you would multiply $851.25 x 1.5 (50% buyout) = $1276.87.  That would be for a 5 hour call or per hour episode - they get you for one hour for every 10 minute segment they have you narrate.  For a half hour series you would make $307.25 + $249.25 + $123.75 for a total of 3/10 minute segments = $680.25 plus the 50% buyout = $1020.38.  That’s for a 3 hour call to narrate 3 x 10 minute segments or per half hour episode.  What’s great about this is that it doesn’t matter how many lines you do per 10 minute segment - you still get paid the same amount if you do 40 lines or 100 lines per 10 minute segment.

So that completes the inside story on how much you can make in Voice-over in the three most popular fields of Commercials, Animation and Narration.  As I said before you can see why it’s so competitive - people love earning great money in a creative environment.  And this is why it’s so important to train - because when they like you, they will keep on hiring you again and again.  Tune in next time for more insider information about the voice-over biz!  See you in class!