What Does A Voiceover Cost?
I’m often asked by potential clients for my voice over rate card, but I don’t have one and the reason for this is that different types of voice over such as corporate, audiobooks, telephony and eLearning have different rates and the cost is determined in different ways. So here’s a breakdown of four genres of voice over work, how the price is calculated and what all the industry-specific jargon such as BSF, usage, in-perpetuity and price per hour mean.
Audiobooks have never been more popular with UK sales of £76 million in the first six months of 2021 and for voice over artists, they either love recording them or hate it. Given the particular skills required and the amount of work involved (it can take two or three hours to record one finished hour of a book and that’s on top of reading it beforehand and annotating the script) it is relatively low-cost compared to other voiceover work.
Audiobooks are priced per finished hour, and that means per finished hour of playback of the edited recording and not per hour of the time taken to record it. The price per finished our varies in the UK from £65 to £130 per finished hour and in the US it can cost anything from between $150 to $500 per finished hour. Some voice over artists include in the price a clean edited copy with mistakes removed, but for others, they will charge post-production costs on top which are usually between £45 and £60 per hour editing time.
The average length of an audiobook is between eight and 13 hours so if the rate for the job is £130 per finished hour, that’s between £1040 and £1690. If the narrator charges a lower per finished hour rate, they may charge extra for editing to produce a clean edit, which will add another 3-4 hours of time, plus an hour or two at £60 per hour to proof and master. Often audiobook narrators will subcontract out the editing, proofing and mastering , hence the lower per hour rate to do this, and having another ear to pick up mistakes is not a bad thing. Whilst that adds up to quite a bit of money, when you think that it takes 4-5 hours to produce 1 hour of finished recording it is a bargain, particularly in the UK!
Corporate narration includes explainer videos, audio guides, toys and games and public service announcements, and these prices are calculated very differently to audiobooks. With corporate narration you’ll come across the BSF or Basic Studio Fee which is the minimum price a voice artist will charge to record. In the UK a professional voice artist usually charges £250 Basic Studio Fee for up to 5 minutes finished recording time, with additional minutes charged at anything between £50 and £150 per finished minute. In the US, corporate narration is charged at between $350 and $600 for up to five finished minutes. If the script includes complex medical terms the price will be higher as the voiceover artist will have to research pronunciation and it often takes longer to record as it will take longer to get it right. The cost of corporate narration described here is for internal use only and by that I mean that the explainer or corporate video is to be shown on the company’s intranet or in a live meeting to staff for example. If the video is to be shown on the company’s website, there is a usage licence fee to be paid in addition to the cost of recording.
In many countries around the world including the UK and US, a voice actor cannot sell the copyright to their voice but can sell the rights to the recording of their voice. In much the same way that you pay a licence to play music or use a photograph, so too do you have to pay a usage licence to broadcast the recording of a voice artist’s voice . The organisation Gravy For The Brain has produced a useful video explaining what a usage licence means to hirers.
When I discuss the cost of a corporate voiceover with a client and I mention that if the video is to be broadcast there will be a licence fee required, the client will sometimes say “ It’s not being broadcast, it’s just going up on the company website.” Putting a video on the internet does constitute broadcast so a usage licence is required and this will typically cost 100% of the Basic Studio Fee. This cost would be for a one year licence and the price would be more if you want three or five years. Many clients nowadays are automatically asking for a buyout or in perpetuity licence, but the cost of this would be very expensive and usually unnecessary. It is very expensive because a voice over artist must factor in the potential loss of future work if another client wants exclusivity on a particular product for which they are willing to pay for. An example would be an ad agency producing a commercial for HSBC would always ask the voice artist if they have worked with another bank and whether the recording can still be seen on the internet. If I’d recorded an explainer video for Lloyds and the agreed license was for ever or in perpetuity, I would most likely lose out on that job and the thousands of pounds such a commercial job would pay as it is unlikely that a company would pay the same rate for an explainer video as for a commercial to compensate the voice actor. It is also usually unnecessary to have a buyout. because most corporate videos have a life span of no more than three years as the content of that video becomes dated within that time.
A usage licence of 100% Basic Studio Fee for 1 year, covers the use of the recording on the company’s website and organic or passive social media. This means that the company can post on their social media channels such as YouTube, Instagram and Twitter as long as they are not paying to push the video in front of an audience. If a client is paying these channels to promote their video, it is effectively advertising and therefore a typical usage licence will be in the region of 400% BSF for one year. Remember however that the BSF is for the time spend recording, so for example, I could record 2 x 90 second explainer scripts for one Basic Studio Fee, but the usage fee would be charged per video.
All these costs are negotiable and can depend on a number of factors – whether the work is for a small charity, or it is a bulk order of several videos and payment is received up front. Discuss this with your chosen voice artist!
Elearning is priced per word mainly because there is often long pauses in the delivery when a script requires the listener to do something such as press a button and click though to a page. If it was priced per minute or per hour, this would increase the costs considerably if for instance the script was 50,000 words which is not unusual for an Elearning course. Most Elearning voice over artists will use a special word count calculator which counts words based upon how they are spoken rather than how they are written to get an accurate total. An example would be “ moirataitvoiceover.com/blog” would count as six words – moirataitvoiceover dot com forward slash blog.
The price per word for e-learning ranges from between £0.20 per word and £0.60 per word (the US starts at $0.25 per word). This difference depends on the total number of words, with a decreasing cost per word depending on the total number of words. So, for up to 750 words the rate could be £0.40 per word, up to 2000 words the rate could be £0.35 per word and up to 10,000 it could be £0.20 per word. Another factor affecting the cost per word is the difficulty of the script so technical or medical narration will cost more. If you require the recording to be split into files (and there can be hundreds depending on the size of the eLearning job) there is often a charge of £1 per file split.
With Elearning voiceover, a usage licence doesn’t usually apply as they are usually for internal company training unless it is a training course which is being sold on the internet and then a licence fee would be required.
Recorded voice messages or IVR (Interactive Voice Response) is another area where pricing is unique to the genre. These can range from a simple message with three or four options “ for sales, press one, for HR, press 2 etc) up to 100s of individual messages where the caller can interact with the voice on the phone. This will be most familiar when we call our bank for instance and the voice responds as whether we’d like to speak to customer services, or would we like our account information, or “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that”.
Most voice over artists charge between £8 and £15 per prompt where a prompt is described as an action, such as “Thank you for calling ABC Consolidated”, and “Your call is important to us, so please hold”. Some voice over artists will put a limit of 50 words per prompt and for smaller jobs such as my first example (messages on hold) there is a minimum of £100 or £150 regardless of whether you require 2 or 10 prompts. There may also be a cost for file splitting and naming.
A final word should be said about rerecords, which is when a client comes back to the voice over artist after delivery of the recording asking for a reread of part of the script. This is sometimes a thorny subject if it has not been discussed in advance which is why I spell out in my quotes what my rerecord policy is, so that both parties are clear about what’s expected. Therefore, is it vitally important that the client has checked the script before sending it to the voice artist for recording. I’ve written a useful guide on how to prepare a script before sending it to the voice artist to save time and money. Rerecords typically happen if a mistake in style of delivery is made (which is why it’s worth asking for an audition to clarify the tone and style of delivery before starting the job) and in this instance a voice artist will rerecord for free, but if there is a script change after delivery, a fee of between £50 and £100 will be incurred. If the changes are more than 30% of the script then a new BSF will be charged.
A useful resource for rates is the Gravy For The Brain guide and reflects the standard industry voiceover rates in the UK and internationally.
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