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 talk about costs.
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:
- Corporate narration
- Telephone systems or IVR.
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 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 £130+ per hour and in the US anywhere between $100 – $400.
And that’s just the narration part – you also need to factor in post production costs like editing and proofing. Often that can cost 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 must spend 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 toys and games as well as the standard corporate videos 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 for an experienced, professional voiceover. Of course this will differ per individual and could be more, particularly for medical or complex scripts. In the US, it’s worked out slightly differently but it’s round about $300+ per hour.
Most corporate voice bookings are worked out in hourly blocks. This also covers “hidden” costs like prep, set-up and the studio if you’re working with a voice actor in their home or maybe travel time to and from an outside studio.
One important thing to be aware of is that the script that you want your voice artist to record, needs to be agreed before the session. Don’t try and cram multiple scripts into one hour. 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.
So, the BSF is simply the cost of recording the script and does not 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. I’ll do a separate article on it soon.
But to confirm the basic costs. For most kinds of corporate work, the BSF starts around £250 or $300 per hour for a professional voice artist – and then there’s often usage too.
I’m not going to lie. 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? How pernickety is a per-word count but no. The reasons that per word make total sense are:
- E-learning projects are often long – some have many thousand of words in a single course – so it’s a straight-forward, easy way to accurately cost them;
- E-learning is often more measured with space for learners to absorb information – so per word means that you’re not paying for pauses;
- There is no separate usage fee for e-learning – it’s all built into the cost.
So E-learning is costed by word – super-simple!
Telephone Messaging or IVR
We’re all familiar with telephone messaging or IVR (interactive voice response) systems. We use them everyday.
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 £5-£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:
- Audiobooks are costed per finished hour
- Corporate projects start with a Basic Studio Fee and you need to be aware of usage costs
- E-learning is costed per word and the usage fee is built in
- And IVR systems are priced per prompt – and may well have a minimum charge
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.
It’s also made me think I need to work towards creating a proper rate card for my website – voiceovers themselves being clearer about costs will be more helpful all round.
Samantha is a full-time UK voice artist with a broadcast quality studio. And she’s also the host of Talking Creative – the Art of Voiceover Directing – a podcast for creatives and voice directors.
If you fancy listening to this blog post as a podcast, you can listen here .
Or if you’d like to book me for one of your projects, do check out my voice reels here. I’d love to hear from you!