“Those who can’t build value, have nothing left but to compete on price.” Paul Strikwerda
At the end of December 2011, Alex Rodriguez had earned $39,000,000. That’s 33 million in salary and winnings from the New York Yankees, and 6 million in endorsements. Not bad for a year’s work.
Do you think he’s worth it?
In 2006, entertainment tycoon David Geffen sold Jackson Pollock’s painting No. 5, 1948 for 140 million dollars. Assuming you had that kind of spare change, would you spend it on a painting described by some as “stunning drip”?
Can you tell me why 15-year old actress Abigail Breslin reportedly made $65K for 5 hours of voice-over work for the animated film “Zambezia”? Yes, that’s $13,000 per hour!
Let’s be honest: what did these people really do?
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You’ve probably heard the story of the priest who preached the same sermon every Sunday.
After a few weeks, some of the parishioners got tired of it and demanded an explanation.
“Do you really want to know why I’m repeating myself at every service?” asked the priest. The crowd nodded.
“I will continue to tell you the same thing over and over again, until you take it to heart and do something with it.
If you don’t change your behavior, I don’t see any reason for me to change my sermon.”
Well, I may be the son of a minister, but as a writer, I can certainly relate to this priest. When it comes to setting rates, I sometimes feel I’m talking to a sea of people with frighteningly short memories and no backbone.
Watch me as I go to my pulpit and address the crowd:
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On my way to Las Vegas, I popped in a Tony Robbins tape from his Personal Power series.
Tony Robbins is a hugely successful motivational speaker, trainer and writer. If you have a million dollars, he’ll give you his private number and you may call him 365 days a year for a private coaching session.
People either love him or hate him. Those who hate him are usually put off by his hyped up, in your face presentation style. Those who love him are pumped up by his towering presence and contagious enthusiasm, whether it’s on CD, during a live seminar or on TV.
Robbins built his career on…
Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.
“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.
PSI 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.
PSBodalgo’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)
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.
PSSorry 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.
PSWhat’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.
PSInflation 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.
PSSo, 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).
PSQuality 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]
PSCan 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.
For the past few weeks I have conducted a secret experiment. You probably haven’t noticed a thing and that was exactly my point.
Let me explain.
One fine day I was wondering what would happen if I’d stop publishing my blog and reduce my presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to a minimum.
After 21 days I got my answer:
That’s right: nothing happened.
No one emailed me to ask how I was doing. No one wanted to know why I hadn’t posted a new article in a while. Not a single Facebook friend checked in to find out how things were going (unless you count the barrage of birthday wishes).
What a relief!
If only I had done this experiment earlier. It would have saved me from the self-imposed pressure of having to publish something at regular intervals.
It could have stopped me from taking myself too seriously. And more importantly, I would have discovered how much time I had on my hands to do the things that matter most.
You see, as you and I go about our busy business, it’s so easy to get caught up in our work and forget to take care of the goose with the golden eggs.
I know the economy is in terrible shape. I know money is tight. But regardless of how hard we’re trying to stay afloat, there’s no excuse for putting ourselves last on the list. It’s the golden rule:
Love others like you love yourself
We personify our product. We embody our service. If we don’t take care of ourselves, our product suffers. That’s why all of us could benefit from a healthy dose of egotism in several areas of our life. To name a few:
That the United States has become a sedentary society should be no news to you. Friends visiting from Holland were shocked by the number of obese people they encountered while traveling. They said to me:
“We knew it was bad, but we had no idea it was this bad.”
In a study of over 17,000 Canadians, it was found that individuals who led a sedentary lifestyle were over 50% more likely to die from all causes, than their non-sedentary counterparts. This risk was not dependent upon age, smoking, or even physical activity levels.
I know I’ve become a desk jockey and I have gained a considerable amount of weight in the last few years. What’s even worse, I’ve come up with these stupid excuses to explain why I am in such bad shape:
“I’m not getting any younger so it’s only natural to put on a couple of extra pounds.” “I need my computer to work. I can’t be moving and typing at the same time.” “At the end of a long day I deserve a sweet treat or an ice-cold beer.”
Of course I know better. Ultimately, I am the boss of my own lifestyle. I determine how much or how little I move and eat. However, there’s a big difference between knowing what’s going on, and doing something about it.
That’s why I decided to be egotistical and bring my body back into shape.
Earlier on, I wrote about how bored I was by people recycling the same old topics in our field. It’s like still water but without any depth. Give it a few more weeks and it will start to reek and rot.
That’s why I have used the past month to catch up on my reading. I purposely steered away from anything having to do with my line of work. I am a firm believer in the stimulating effects of cross-pollination.
My second egotistical intellectual self-endulgement is music. Music is nourishment for the mind as well as food for the soul. I cannot live without it, and that’s why I started to spend more time improvising at the piano.
As I mentioned before, dear friends from The Netherlands whom I had not seen in ten years, came over for a prolonged visit. I’m telling you: Skype, Facebook or any other type of social technology is a poor substitute for seeing people in person.
Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for modern means of communication, but using them is a bit like watching the Food Network. We observe people preparing delicious dishes, but we’re missing essential ingredients. We can’t smell or taste what’s on the menu.
I firmly believe that the quality of our life is greatly determined by the quality of our relationships. Taking the time to strengthen those relationships is vital and invigorating. Besides, I got to speak Dutch for days, and the world is a different place when you’re speaking another language.
Taking time off allowed me to work on a book. As a professional narrator, I get paid to read other people’s work. In a way, that’s re-creation.
At the same time, I have a strong inner urge to create my own material. I won’t tell you what I’ve been working on, but once again it was born out of healthy egotism. Writing is a way for me to release what’s been brewing inside.
END THE EXPERIMENT
My 21-day silence has been remarkably beneficial, but does this mean that I will continue my experiment?
Hold your horses. I’m not a hermit.
My blog is read by thousands of people per month and the number is steadily growing.
Just as a composer should never stop composing while there’s still music inside of him, I will keep on writing. Even if these words end up being nothing but notes to an egotistical bastard.
Ultimately, it’s the quality of the music that matters.
After much use, even the sharpest knives get dull. Paul Strikwerda
Can a voice-over pro ever take time off?
Do you have to be available 24/7?
Is it okay to shut down your business for a few weeks of Rest and Relaxation?
Will your Facebook fans unfriend you?
Will your Twitter followers desert you?
Will your voice-overworked agent ever talk to you again?
Let me answer these questions with a question:
What won’t happen if you don’t do it?
I am a big believer in a balanced lifestyle. As a European living in the States (the number 1 “no vacation nation”), I see a lot of people around me who are absolutely addicted to their jobs. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to stay connected and become a burned-out, boss-pleasing slave laborer.
Have we forgotten our history?
On January 31st, 1865, The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. It read:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
I guess the keyword is involuntary servitude.
We are free people, living in a free country who have earned the right to free themselves of any free time. Instead, we have chosen “voluntary servitude.”
Now, that’s what I call progress in a society built upon the principles of “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!”
But let’s put the cynicism and sarcasm aside for a moment. If you’re pursuing happiness as a full-time freelancer, you are in charge of your own destiny. You set your own hours. You determine your own rates. You’re the only one who can call it a day and shout from the roof tops:
Give me a break!
You’re self-employed. You embody your service. Literally. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. If you don’t guard your boundaries carefully, good people with the best of intentions will step on them and leave you depleted.
TRAPPED & TIRED
A few weeks ago, I was asked to do a presentation in front of hundreds of people. Prior to that, there was a reception and -of course- you can’t have a reception without background music. It’s a known fact that most musicians aren’t capable of staying in the background. No matter the crowd, they have to be LOUD.
I knew that if I were to schmooze prior to my presentation, I would have no voice left, even though my vocal cords are well-trained.
As they say: “If you schmooze, you lose.”
Besides, the next day I was going to New York for a recording session and my voice had to be in top-shape in order to sell well.
So, I was left with a choice. Either slip something into the drinks of the band that would have them running to the restroom in a matter of minutes… or hide myself from the crowd until it was time to go on stage.
The first option was obviously more entertaining, but I ended up hiding in the basement. Unfortunately, an overzealous janitor came down, turned off the lights and kicked the door shut, leaving me trapped.
This is where cell phones can save the day. I called the organizer of the event:
“Hi, it’s Paul.”
“Paul, where are you? We’ve looked all over for you!”
“I am trapped in the basement. It is dark in here. Rats are nibbling on my feet. Please rescue me!”
That day, instead of being a voice-over, I became a voice-under.
I think you get my point.
In order to give your all, you sometimes have to get away from it all. But avoid being locked up.
Now, in an ideal world you would just pack your bags and go where no one can reach you. But what to do when you’re waiting for that all-important callback or that once-in-a-lifetime chance to audition for something you can’t afford to refuse?
In that case, you need to take some gear on the road and improvise. Rather than spending a few hours going over all the options, I suggest you read Harlan Hogan and Jeffrey Fischer’s classic Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home and on the Road. It’s jam-packed with practical information and I highly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in a voice-over career.
Here’s what I take along on my travels:
a CEntrance MicPort Pro
A MicPort Pro is a nifty mini audio interface/preamplifier that plugs directly into your microphone. On the other side there’s a USB cable that plugs into your computer. In other words: this device can turn any microphone into a USB mic. It has phantom power, a headphone jack and two knobs for setting the record level and the headphone volume.
So… after all that subtle product placement, let’s get back to the original question:
Can you take off for a period of time without ruining your career?
Here’s an experiment you should do at home:
Fill up your watering can to the brim and start watering your plants. Keep on watering and watering and watering… until there’s no more water left.
I don’t have to tell you that -in order for those plants to grow- you need to water them regularly. An empty watering can is useless. The moral of the story:
You can’t give what you don’t have.
Now, why is that so easy to understand when it comes to our plants, and why are we surprised that “We the People,” are so stressed, so drained and left without an ounce of creativity?
Take my advice and get lost! Recharge your batteries. Discover that you have significant others in your life who’d love to get to know you. It can’t be all work and no play… Your job is just a means to an end.
TAKING TIME OFF
Be sure to let your voice casting sites and agents know that you’ll be gone for a particular period of time. If you must, bring your gear, but promise yourself that you will only do what is absolutely essential. Otherwise, you’ll get sucked into obsessive email checking, incessant instant messaging and frantic Facebooking.
Only use your cell phone when you’re stuck in a basement and someone’s thrown away the key.
When you come back from your well-deserved vacation, notice how refreshed, alert and full of energy you are.
People can see it in your face. They hear it in your voice.
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