How much does a professional voiceover artist cost?
I’m frequently asked this question – in fact, it’s often one of the first things I’m asked when I mention what I do for a living.
And if you’ve ever wanted to book a professional voice for a project and thought “I haven’t got the faintest idea how much a voice artist even costs? £50? £500? £5000? I just don’t know where to start” – then you’re in luck. Because today I’m going to discuss the dark art of voiceover fees.
When I was a Creative Head at the BBC, I knew exactly how much a voiceover cost – or at least I knew how much a standard voice cost for most of the promotions we made. It was fixed by the BBC and Equity and the only times it changed significantly was when we booked celebrity voices or if the promotion itself was being broadcast somewhere out of the ordinary – like in the cinema.
It seemed pretty straightforward so when I became a full-time voiceover, I wasn’t prepared at all for how difficult costing even quite a simple project was going to be.
People were talking about BSFs, usage, rates, per finished hour, price per word, buyouts, in perpetuity, picks ups… some of this made sense to me but much of it was baffling. And no one seemed to be giving any hard information and definitely no real costs.
It IS complex.
I’m going to explain how costing works in the four key areas areas that keep many voices busy day-to-day:
Plus I’ll give you a link to an online resource that will help you calculate costs wherever you are in the world. Of course, there’ll always be exceptions to the rule because most voices are freelance so fees differ from individual to individual.
But one of the interesting thing about these different genres is that they’re all costed COMPLETELY differently.
Audiobooks are the marmite of the voice industry. Voices either love or loathe audiobook work and, depending on which country you’re in, the fees can vary quite significantly.
The most important thing to know about Audiobooks is that they’re costed per finished hour – that’s per finished hour of the edited book. Not per hour of recording time.
It’s also worth knowing – if you’re trying to work out a cost – there are approximately 9000 words per spoken hour. So a book with 54000 words in it will be about 6 hours long.
And, in case you were wondering and I have been asked this before, yes, we do read the books before we record them. Often a few times – and we make notes, prep and mark up the manuscript before stepping into the studio..
Once there, even for experienced audiobook readers, it can often take two hours of recording time to get one finished hour. And what we produce is a “clean edit” – a mistake-free recording – ready for post production.
The prep, the recording and the clean edit are all included in our per finished hour fee. Which – in the UK – can be anything from £75 to £150+ per hour and in the US anywhere between $100 – $400.
And that’s just the narration part – if you’re working out a costing for an audiobook, you also need to factor in post production costs like editing and audio-proofing. And these costs are at least as much again per finished hour.
Nonetheless audiobook narration does feel like an absolute bargain – particularly in the UK – once you take into account how much time and effort it takes to produce each book. The voice artist alone often spends at least 4 or 5 hours creating 1 finished hour.
Corporate narration isn’t quite as dull as it sounds these days and it covers lots of different types of voice-work including museum and audio guides and even toys and apps as well as the standard corporate videos, explainers and medical narrations.
But where to start with costs? Well, this is where the BSF comes in – sometimes known as “scale” in the US.
The BSF is one of those industry terms that really foxes people.
The Basic Studio (or Session) Fee is the cost of recording a script before any usage is attached. (I’ll come to usage further down.)
It’s the minimum hourly rate charged by the voice artist. And in the UK, the average BSF is around £250 – £350 per hour for an experienced, professional voiceover. In the US, it’s worked out slightly differently but it’s round about $300-$400 per hour. Of course this will differ per individual – for instance, my standard BSF is £300 for most projects.
The BSF can move up – say, for medical or complex scripts – or even move down – say, for smaller, local companies or repeat work. It’s up to the individual voiceover. And most voice artists are prepared to negotiate – it’s all about making contact and building relationships.
Most corporate voice bookings are worked out in hourly blocks. This hourly rate also covers “hidden” costs like the script or project preparation, any tech set-up and the cost of the studio, if you’re working with a voice actor in their home.
One important thing to be aware of is that the script that you want your voice artist to record, ideally needs to be agreed before the session. Rocking up and cramming multiple scripts into one hour without warning your voice is best avoided. That’s like turning up at the dentist’s for a routine check-up and expecting them to do a filling, a crown and a root canal while they’re at it.
And the BSF is simply the cost of recording the script and doesn’t include any usage fees.
Now – usage fees. Directors sometimes seem surprised by the idea of a usage fee for a voiceover. And they definitely need an article all to themselves to be fully explained because it’s a complex subject – but I do want to briefly touch on them here.
Because the concept behind usage fees is something you’ll definitely be familiar with – it’s just that you may not associate it with voiceover work.
And you won’t be able to unread this – usage fees – aka licensing fees or buy-out rates – are a legal requirement for many voiceover jobs.
Most people know that you can’t download a piece of music and simply pop it on a video. Or copy a photograph to use on your website or copy some film footage… we have to licence these things because the rights belong to the performers or creators. It’s a totally accepted part of our industry.
Well – that – in simple terms – is what usage fees are for Voice Artists. Recording the voice is one thing, being able to use it commercially is another – and that’s where usage fees come in.
But to confirm the basic costs. For most kinds of corporate work, the BSF starts around £250-£300 or $300 per hour for a professional voice artist – and then you need to consider usage too.
E-learning used to be a mystery to me because it’s costed in a very different way to most other voice genres – but I’ve discovered there are some excellent reasons why.
It’s costed per word. And in the UK it’s typically 30 – 60 pence per word but again, these are average rates. In the US – it’s costed in a number of different ways – per word, per minute or per hour. The per word cost is typically 20-30 cents.
Why though? A per-word count feels rather fussy and complicated. But let me explain.
These are some reasons that ‘per word’ is used:
So E-learning is costed by word.
We’re all familiar with telephone messaging or IVR (interactive voice response) systems. We use them every day.
But if you want to employ a voice artist to give your telephone system some polish, do be aware that each prompt is priced separately. And whilst each individual message might be quite short – big firms like banks or utility companies or airlines often need hundreds of alternatives. The cost in the UK is anything from £7-£15+ per prompt but if you only need a few, most professional voice artists have a minimum starting fee regardless of number of prompts – which could be £100 or £150 whether you have 1 or 10 voice prompts to record. In the US, IVR is costed slightly differently – per word or per minute.
This is a brilliant online resource: The Gravy for the Brain Rate Card. It’s a really useful weapon in anyone’s voiceover armoury for calculating fees worldwide.
It’s an online guide to voiceover rates around the globe – you search by country and then by genre – and it’s a great place to start if you’re costing a project. It’s comprehensive, frequently updated and gives typical lower, middle and upper fees for different types of voiceover genres including all the ones I’ve covered here and a whole bunch of others – animation, gaming, live announcing and so on.
So let’s have a quick look back:
There are of course other genres and we haven’t delved properly into the whole usage, buyouts and commercial rights side of voiceover but this was hopefully a useful start. And if all you remember is the BSF and the fact that usage fees actually exist – that’s something.
Because the truth is, you’re not going to find a professional voice artist for £5 – or £50. As with most things in life – whether you need a hair stylist, an architect or a doctor – experienced, creative, fully-trained professionals who charge the right price for a great service will get you the best results every time.
I’m a full-time UK voiceover artist and director with a broadcast quality studio, based in London. You can listen to my voice demos here.
And if you love a bit of chat about voiceovers, directing and all kinds of creative stuff, please do connect or follow me on LinkedIn here. I’d love to link up.
I’m also the host of Talking Creative – the Art of Voiceover Directing – a podcast for creatives, voice directors and voice artists.
This blog post is available as a podcast episode here. However, do be aware that the episode was recorded in 2020. The concepts remain the same of course – but the fees have changed. Not hugely – thank you global recession and pandemic – but slightly.