“I’m being offered $200 to narrate a 120-thousand word audio book. Do you think that’s a fair rate?”
“A client wants me to record a movie trailer for $150. Should I do it?”
Not a day goes by without someone asking these types of questions on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.
Sometimes I stick my neck out and I respond to these questions, especially when I get sentimental and remember the early days of my career.
I was young and unafraid and incredibly ignorant. Back then there was no Internet. Picking brains became my specialty.
On other days I’m not so sappy, as I remember the kind words of my business coach:
“If you’re a Pro, you know what you’re worth. If you’re not, go do your own homework! You won’t learn a thing if I hand you everything on a silver platter.”
He was right.
These days, getting info has never been easier. Search Google for voiceover rates. You’ll get about 5,600,000 results in 0.52 seconds. How’s that for starters?
Bringing up rates usually spells trouble. Talent likes them to go up. Clients love paying less. Where to begin?
The Freemarketeers will tell you to leave everything up to the unregulated forces of supply and demand. After all, it worked well for subprime mortgages, didn’t it? The Interventionists fear a free fall for all. They want rates to be regulated.
Unfortunately, it’s not that black-and-white. Voice-Over rates reflect many variables, and unless you belong to a union or you have an agent, it can be tough to put a price on your pipes.
Enter a parade of Pay-to-Plays. You pay for the privilege of being offered the opportunity to audition and bid for projects, together with thousands of other privileged colleagues. Here’s the catch.
As a member, you often have to subject yourself to an agreed price range per project deemed reasonable by that site. Whether or not you choose to accept that range depends on your personal Price Floor.
A Price Floor is a point below which a product or service should not be sold, or else you’d incur a loss. I bet you anything that most people reading these words right now, have no clue what their price floor actually is.
Be honest. Do you?
A EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE
If you’ve read my work before, you know that I have written about U.S.-based voice casting sites and their perceived influence on dwindling voice-over rates.
On January 8th, 2008, a new player entered the market: Bodalgo. Based in Germany, Bodalgo is the brain child of a man who once had a very boring job as the deputy editor of Penthouse: Armin Hierstetter.
Armin’s no dummy.
He studied the existing P2P’s carefully, as he set out to take the good and improve the bad to create something beautiful. Unlike similar sites, Bodalgo is available in German, Spanish, Italian and English (American and British).
Now, if you think that you can buy your way into Bodalgo, you are wrong. No matter the credit limit on your Visa Card, if you sound like crap, you can’t join the club.
Bodalgo caters to clients from all over the world, but because it’s based in Bavaria, it’s a gateway to the European voice-over market. This brings me back to rates. How does Bodalgo compare to its American counterparts?
I (PS) decided to check in with the boss: Armin Hierstetter (AH). Here’s a transcript of the interview.
PS I just saw a project posted on your site in the 100-250 USD range. It made me think: Is Bodalgo going in the direction of its American counterparts, or did I miss something? Has $100 always been the minimum?
AH In USD the minimum range starts at 100 dollars (the Euro has a 50 to 150 minimum range as – for example – a local radio spot in Germany is usually 50 to 55 Euro).
If jobs are posted that are budgeted too low (intentionally or not), Bodalgo contacts the voice-seeker suggesting what we believe is a fair rate. Sometimes the voice-seeker sees our point and is willing to raise the budget, sometimes not. If the voice-seeker does not agree on increasing the budget, the job simply does not get posted. Period.
Of course, we hear many times:
“What? You want me to pay 250 USD for a job that is done in five minutes? You must be insane, you [censored]”
Well, depending on my mood, I sometimes try to explain why voiceovers cost what they cost (knowing that with these types of folks it really does not help at all in most cases), or I simply press the delete button and go on with whatever I am doing.
PS Bodalgo’s been in business for a few years now. What’s your overall take on how voice-over rates are established and where they are going?
AH There are many factors when it comes to rates. Here are few of them (this is by no means meant to be a complete list):
- Uniqueness (most important if you ask me)
- Recording skills
I see a link between equipment becoming more powerful yet more affordable, and declining voice-over rates. Let me share three trends with you:
1. The costs for your own studio are coming down, so you can make this beneficial for your clients as well;
2. Because many talents build their own studios, there is much more competition which also leads to lower prices. That’s how the market works.
PS Sorry to interrupt, but clients are saving money due to the increase in home studios. They no longer need to pay for studio time, an audio engineer/editor and a director.
It is my impression that these savings are simply pocketed and not passed on to the voice talent. In the end, we end up doing more for less. Shouldn’t this give us some leverage to raise our rates?
AH I fully understand that voice-seekers already save a lot of money because they’re used to getting the finished audio from the talent without paying for a studio.
I want to be honest with you. I really think that’s one of the biggest mistakes talents have made for a very long time: They did not charge properly for the studio work, only for the rate as a talent. It will be VERY difficult to change this to an approach where talent charges their normal rate plus editing costs;
3. More and more people of the type “My friends all tell me I should host a radio show,” buy a Shure SM58 microphone and think that their laptop recording is God’s gift to the audio world. Untrained amateurs seem to flood the market.
What’s worse, there are many voice-seekers out there that listen to crap demos thinking they are actually good, because they don’t have a proper recording at hand to compare.
But one thing is for sure: Bodalgo will never start to accept amateurs. Yes, there are a few talents with Bodalgo that have just slipped through the net that might not have passed if I had been pickier the day I activated their accounts. Still, the level of Bodalgo’s talent is much, much, much higher than with any other Pay2Play site that we’ve come across.
PS What’s your advice on how to best play the game? Everybody loves to win an audition, but not at any rate. Do you expect voice-over rates to go up any time soon?
AH If you ask me, the reasons why rates should go up are purely to be seen in costs of living. If those prices would be stable, I’d say it’s fair to assume that our rates would stay stable as well.
With financial markets facing the issues they face at the moment, including all the effects like higher inflation, increased costs for energy, food, rent etcetera, I think that we’ll see rates rising over the next years to cover the rising living expenses.
PS Inflation correction keeps rates at the same level. Talent won’t be making more just because the number on a check is higher. If we wish to increase the amount of money coming in, we need to compensate for the rise in the cost of living, and add e.g. 10% to whatever we’re charging.
AH Well, U.S.-based talent benefits from the weak dollar when paid in Euros by Euro-Zone clients. The opposite is true for Euro-Zone-Talent paid in USD. U.S. clients will not accept higher USD prices just because of exchange rates. It’s really just bad luck for us Euro-Talents.
So, to cut a long story short: Yes, I see higher rates over the next years. But this is only because everything else will go up in price as well.
PS So, how can we best prepare for the tough years that are ahead of us?
AH 1. If you have not done so already, invest in your own studio.
2. Buy the good stuff (like Neumann or Brauner for mics, for example) as it will serve you well many, many years. Personally, I would no longer waste money on analog equipment. I would solely buy digital stuff (like the TLM 103 D from Neumann).
PS Quality equipment is essential, but owning a state of the art camera does not make one a top-notch photographer.
AH I do appreciate that a cool mic does not make a great voice talent, but this is not where I am coming from at all. I am just a firm believer that successful talent simply needs both: A well-trained voice and great equipment to deliver high-quality audio. There are too many Samsung USB mics out there in my opinion.
I know, of course, that those top shelf brands are pricey. But when you look at what you (and your client) get for the money – it turns out to be an excellent investment.
3. LEARN HOW TO RECORD PROPERLY!!! It’s really, really, really (I mean it) horrible to hear how bad, bad, bad many of the auditions are recorded (hiss, bad miking, bad levelling, bad everything). Use proper headphones to proof-listen your recordings and be super critical about the work you deliver. [Armin insisted this should be printed in bold]
PS Can Bodalgo keep both voice-seekers and voice talent equally happy, or is that impossible?
AH That’s easy: Our main goal is to attract more and more voice-seekers that post sanely budgeted jobs. We want to provide them with the easiest solution available to find high-quality talent without paying any commission. That way, both sides will win.
PS Herzlichen Dank, Armin.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
I figured I would reply because I see you repeat the same rhetoric about where I work. To correct you on something… Our site does NOT give voice talent minimums that we deem proper.
What is worse is that many talent who complain that we should, do not understand how that takes away power from voice talent. We believe voice talent working for themselves will know what they have to charge, and our site is listed by hiring clients as being the most expensive of online sites to use when hiring talent. That’s not us.
We also have criteria for talent, as well. I don’t expect you to know this because your demos would not get rejected, and you maybe find a few junk webspace pages. But you have no idea what we deal with and why refunds lead to negative fanfare, as the joyous reward for actually caring that voice talent dont make a fool of themselves. They have other sites that cheer them on, and that is the reward we get for offering to help.
Finally, I would not consider joining a site and then copying brand names for SEO purposes to be innovative or studying carefully. All of these casting sites try each other out because we compete with each other. We know more about each other than you do. We even had a staff member on scholarship studying voiceovers in Germany, and we found out that most TV/radio stations never heard of any of the online casting sites, including Bodalgo.
So, if you want to talk true ‘benefit’, call it what it is… Someone being lucky enough to not be in a non-saturated market with an untapped source of clients.
Let’s not act like someone reinvented the wheel until some real progress is made.
This is great advice. My co-hosts and I talked about this on our podcast. For example, sites like voices.com have thousands of voice actors with varying ranges of talent and professionalism. A lot of the less experienced voice artists try to undercut the competition with their fees, but in the end it doesn’t only take work away from voice artists who deserve the job, it doesn’t only tempt the company to accept a lower quality recording for less money, but also hurts them for the future. From that moment on, and hope of getting more money for future work with that company is lost.
Again, good advice and I look forward to reading more.
PS: If you’re ever interested, we are always looking for voice artists to interview on our show. Just let me know!
Armin Hierstetter says
thanks for your comments.
“[…] we found out that most TV/radio stations never heard of any of the online casting sites, including Bodalgo.”
Depending on *who* you ask at the stations, this might be perfectly true. But: We don’t see this as a problem at all – for a very simple reason: The TV and Radio stations (in Germany) have hardly any jobs for external voiceover talents simply because the stations have their own staff to do voiceovers. We feel it’s the production companies that need vo talents far more often. So TV/radio stations are not our #1 companies to reach out to.
“Finally, I would not consider joining a site and then copying brand names for SEO purposes to be innovative or studying carefully.”
I am not sure if my English is good enough to get the point. Can you elaborate a bit more what you want to say with this?
Best from Germany
Paul Strikwerda says
I spent about 25 years of my life working for Dutch national and international radio and I have to agree with Armin. There was never a need to bring in outside voices because the place was packed with presenters, news readers, announcers, hosts and other talking heads.
Last year, Bodalgo came in second in the category “web presence” in the prestigious German MediaAward competition. This award is an initiative of the Bavarian Ministry of Sciences, honoring innovation and outstanding business communication.
Every year, hundreds (if not thousands) of entrepreneurs launch new websites. Had Bodalgo been nothing more than a copycat, it would never have received top ranking.
Rick Lance says
Thanks for getting this interview. I can think of no one better do have done this. Not only for your intelligent, straight forward questions, but because of your European background and work experience.
It was good to look inside Armin’s head and get the Euro perspective.
Personally, I haven’t done that well on Bodalgo. The jobs I’ve gotten have been from American companies and were priced fairly. Pricing a Euro job is tricky because the rates are lower even after monetary conversion. Jobs from Europe can be much more difficult to complete as well, due to language barriers and cultural differences that seem to be reflected in the scripts. Especially when it looks like there’s been a deliberate attempt to communicate in a North American way through their scripts. Since I can offer no translation services I/m sometimes at a loss for words… so to speak.
I know this is the reality of working the Euro market. I try to be helpful and open minded with inguiries and auditions. Still my Bodalgo batting average seems too low. Although I find myself being highly selective about what I’ll audition for on Bodalgo, I’ll still keep trying!
Btw, maybe to help level the playing field you should try to get interviews with a couple other P2P website officials. Ask some of the same questions and we can get some direct comparisons. Each of the sites I’m involved with need to address some issues with talent and clarify some of the websites policies and format choices. It would be helpful to all.
Paul Strikwerda says
Kudos to Armin Hierstetter! I just “fluffed-up” the interview with a few observations, but Armin’s message is the core of the article.
Rick, your comments made me think (as usual): How does one determine the ROI of a P2P? Is it possible and even fair to generalize a personal experience of a unique talent into an overall thumbs-up or down for a certain site and service?
It’s like the age-old question: Which one is better: voices.com or voice123? It all depends on the (subjective) criteria we choose to use. Getting one good gig as a result of a listing, could completely turn the tables and shift our opinion.
Does the fact that we’re not landing any jobs on a particular P2P mean the site is to blame? We all know that a site can’t guarantee us any work. That’s our job.
As far as interviewing representatives of other sites.. I just clicked on the blog link that takes me to all the articles I have written about P2P’s in the past. I think they’ve had their fair share of publicity on Double Dutch. Besides, we can always count on Steven Lowell to put his two cents in anyway 🙂
Rick Lance says
I probably could have explained myself better regarding my personal experience with Bodalgo. As you know, I’m a very positive guy! Negative thinking creates a rut that widens and grows and only builds barriers to success. I’m certainly not blaming anything on Bodalgo. I know a few talent that do quite well with them. I think the site is very well structured and functional. Armin has been very fair to talent and to his clientele. Which we know is a tricky balancing act.
I’ve considered, however, that my particular voice for most of the projects I’ve chosen to audition for may not be right for those European projects. After all, the Voice of Americana may not be as welcome there! But I still continue to audition on Bodalgo.
I was happy to have the chance to learn something from Armin.
Paul Strikwerda says
A niche is both a strength and a weakness. On one hand you don’t want to be everything to everybody. On the other hand, a signature sound is a Unique Selling Point.
I’ve heard European voice actors try to do Americana stuff, but it always ends up being a caricature. I think there’s a market for the type of authenticity and heart you bring to your projects.
The Italian Valentino Fashion Group owns the brand Marlboro Classics. It has nothing to do with cigarettes. Their line of clothing is inspired by the American West. You’d be perfect for that! Google it and you’ll see what I mean.
Rebecca Michaels says
I appreciate the work Armin has done to create Bodalgo. If I remember right, I think I’ve been a member since the early days. Still am. I find my work generated on Bodalgo has been mainly in the translated German to English category. I think the Germans like my voice! I like them, for sure, at least so far all of my Bodalgo clients are wonderful to communicate and work with.
Especially fun is finding out about Armin’s tawdry past – tee hee!
Paul Strikwerda says
Armin’s past… I swear: it’s the naked truth, Rebecca. Some things you just can’t make up. You should have seen some of the interviews Armin featured in Penthouse. That’s the only reason I’d ever consider a subscription to his magazine 🙂
When I got my first response from a voice seeker on Bodalgo, I was stunned. Was I dreaming or was this really happening? A client thanking me for recording a custom demo? That had never happened before!
All of a sudden I felt like I was being back in Europe again: appreciated, validated and not being treated as a dispensable commodity. What a breath of fresh air!
Lindsay Abbott says
Hi there everyone!
Paul, thank you for this insightful interview with Armin. Personally, I have had reasonable success with Bodalgo, and in general the job rates are fair. The clients so far too have been very easy to work with. I also appreciate not always having to produce a custom demo when submitting a proposal. The audition opportunities can sometimes be a little thin on the ground but what I find is that, all of a sudden, there will be about 5 to audition for at once! I must agree with Paul on his last point under the Comments, in that there is definitely more of a sense of being appreciated as a professional voice over, certainly by the clients I have had so far… :>) I do think, however, that more work could be done to promote the site and bring in more voice seekers, particularly from Europe, but I am sure that this is a work in progress.
Paul Strikwerda says
Doing the work is (relatively) easy. Getting the work is not.
Almost every month I am debating whether or not to renew my Bodalgo membership. You’re right: compared to its U.S. counterparts, Bodalgo isn’t known for offering tons of jobs. It’s more of a trickle. And just when I think it’s no longer worth it, I book a gig with a very nice client and I decide to stay with Hierstetter’s business.
There must be a reason why Bodalgo is trailing behind in job numbers. I think it has something to do with its name. Ask anyone what Bodalgo stands for (even within the VO-community) and I don’t think you’ll get an answer. “Bo-what exactly?”
Now think of similar services and their names. There’s usually a reference to voices. It might be a cliche but at least you have a sense of what they’re about.
There’s a lot I like about Bodalgo, but its name is not exactly a brilliant choice. Then again, “PieHole” doesn’t ring a voice-over bell either. What do you think?