The voice over industry is very unique among industries. It doesn't manufacture anything. It does not have a high bar for entry, and there are no standards or best practices that everyone works within. Anyone can work in this industry without training or experience. It is indeed, the Wild West of industries.
And we have our problems just like any other industry. Most would say it is the flood of inexperienced newcomers looking for fame and fortune, lowering the quality standards and the compensation floor. On many social media discussion forums the rants about newcomers hurting our industry is prevalent. These discussions have been on-going for many years. In addition, the creation of "gig" sites and "pay to play" sites have created pseudo professional outlets where the only winners are the sites themselves and the ignorant cheap people who hire from them.
So it is no wonder many experienced professional voice actors despise these sites. And the sites themselves have done nothing to help their image or reputation. Many are ripe with deception and payment schemes that would make the slimiest wall street broker pay homage. In the beginning they touted their loyalty to the voice actor. Now, we are a commodity; a "part supplier" if you will, on their purchasing list of preferred vendors. There isn't a pay to play site out there, except 1 or 2, that considers the voice over industry to be anything but a money grab. And as voice actors, WE have allowed this to happen.
Take for example a recent discussion post on Linkedin from British voice actor Peter Stern, who brought to our attention an eLearning voice over job posting on a popular pay to play site. It was to narrate 10 academic books of around 50,000 words each, or as Peter pointed out, a half a million words. The fixed fee offered? $3,150. It was made clear that this was for all 10 books. If you break down the numbers, you can see how this amount is laughable. In any other industry, this amount of money for that amount of work would make the company posting it a laughing stock. Yet the sad part of this story? The job poster set a 50 audition limit for this project, and they received 50 auditions.
So let's do the math shall we?
First, it typically takes 1 hour to narrate 9000 words. Knowing this, we can then establish total project time and derive the cost associated with that time. Keep in mind, these are strictly estimates. Factors such as experience level of the talent could affect the numbers.
Time to proof/pre-read a 50,000 word script: 7 hours ( we are proofing and making notes)
Time to record voice over of 50,000 word script: 6 hours
Time to edit 50,000 word voice over: 12 hours ( it takes a minimum of 2 hours of editing for every 1 hour of audio but if you are not proficient, it could take 3 hours)
Total time invested to proof read, record and edit a 50,000 word script: 25 hours
25 hours X 10 scripts: 250 hours.
250 hours divided by $3,150 = $12.60 per hour, at 31.25 days at 8 hours per day.
$12.60 per hour minus 15.3 percent self employment tax = $10.67
So the final hourly rate to produce this project is $10.67 an hour. And keep in mind, the voice talent chosen for this project will most likeley be unable to audition or work on any other projects during this time. So for a month of work, this is the result. And of course let's assume the client expects a net 30 invoice term. So another 30 days will go by before a check is cashed. And let's also assume the talent will need to re-record corrections which typically are provided at no charge.
Here is my question for you. Applying this scenario to the issues our industry faces with lowering standards and pay, is the talent who is chosen to blame? Is it the client? Or, is it the pay to play site that provides the medium for the client and talent to connect?
In my opinion, it is all three. But mostly, the blame falls upon the Pay to Play site. Pay to Play sites have ordained themselves as the sacred sites of easy money, and lure voice actors into the membership rolls with promises of hundreds of audition opportunities and quick payments, all for a price. What they don't tell you, among a host of other things, is that they do a terrible job of controlling the pricing of jobs on their sites. The pay to play site that published this job should be ashamed for doing so.
SAG AFTRA, the union that represents union voice actors, has established rates for every possible voice over job. The rates are floor rates. You can't go below them. For the rest of us non-union folk, we don't have this luxury. Clients post a job and offer a fee. We as voice actors, determine if we want to audition for that job or not. It makes perfect sense from a free market point of view. The problem is that too many new voice actors don't know how to say no. The new voice actors, who have no agent, no skills, and no experience, will take anything they can get to make some money. The established professional voice actor shakes his/her head at the scenario above, and then writes a blog about how newbie voice actors are ruining the industry by accepting low ball jobs.
We can't run around blaming newbies for the situation we find ourselves in. We were all new at one time and we all worked for peanuts until we established ourselves. Hell, for some clients, I don't work for peanuts, but I have moved up to almonds or cashews because I have had them for so long and they provide steady work. No, we must focus our energy and anger on pay to play sites. They control the vast majority of auditions that are sent out on a daily basis. They have the power to show that they care about this industry by doing what SAG AFTRA does and establishing floor rates. There is no reason they shouldn't. And if someone from one of these sites would like to explain why they "can't" or "won't" that would be eye opening.
It is apparent SAG AFTRA has no dog in this fight, so it falls to us. Do what it takes to make yourself heard. Contact the sites directly, send an email, get on social media and bug the hell out of them. Include hash tags in all your rants...there's plenty of them. Better yet, if you are a member of World Voices, ask them to do more. If you are not a member, JOIN. If you are comfortable in your studio earning great money from these sites, think about the industry instead of yourself. Help educate newcomers. Write blogs that contradict these sites. Make them uncomfortable. These sites and their owners are playing in OUR YARD. It is not the other way around. There is no voiceover industry without US.