Businessman between two female colleaguesIt may appear that we’re beating a dead horse, but perceived value is everything.

Everything is relative, right?
The question is posed and the floor is yours: Is it possible to overvalue your voice?
Let the debate begin!

Can One Place Too Much Value on Their Voice?

A comment received to yesterdays article about perceived value has prompted me to write a follow up on whether or not it is possible to overvalue your voice.

In short, what the commenter was saying was that overvaluing your voice was the worst way to make a living in this business. The recommendation was that talent focus instead on forty $100 reads per week to reach their goals.

This topic is always a sensitive one and there are countless feelings and opinions on the subject. Drawing attention to this comment and specific business strategy allows us to acknowledge that there is more than one option when it comes to valuing your services.

Factors To Consider That Count For Something!

When people ask me what my opinion on the matter of pricing is, I encourage them to take all factors into consideration when they quote and give the client a rate, including:

  • The time it takes to prepare, record, edit and produce
  • The value of your time in general
  • Training you’ve invested in
  • Your studio equipment
  • The purpose of the voice over
  • Its use
  • The size of the target audience or market that the voice over will be heard by
  • Any special requirements (technical difficulty, exclusivity, etc.)

Your voice and ability to interpret a script have value. Those aspects aside, even something like your studio and any training you have adds to the value you are able to provide to your customers.

Don’t feel guilty for valuing your voice and pricing yourself as you see fit. This is a decision each person makes for themselves, which leads me to this question:
How can one overvalue their voice if they feel that the worth of their voice and services is equivalent to what they are charging?
If a client will pay a premium or simply pay the rate a talent asks without question, they also believe in the value being offered.

Consider Worth in Terms of Branding

What people charge can also be relative to what they feel their voice is worth to that particular client and their brand.
If you were the primary voice of an organization and are associated closely with the brand, your voice means more to the client than words can describe… the voice is at the heart of their company and connects with their customers. I would also expect that your voice is also distinct to their company and is different from the voices of their competitors.
Obtaining or retaining that voice is of the utmost importance for a company whose public identity is shaped in part by the voice that is heard in their marketing and communications with their customers.

For instance, if you were to be the voice of an airline and they required your voice to be exclusive to their company, you’d want to charge a premium for that exclusivity as it means that you would have to turn down work from any other airline, and possibly other companies who may do business with competing airlines, out of respect for your one client.
Should this come to pass, wouldn’t you expect that you’d be compensated very well for giving up other opportunities that might come your way?

Being the Voice of a Brand

The actor Morgan Freeman is the voice of Visa. Freeman’s voice is strongly associated with Visa and one of the reasons why some people trust the company, or trust their messaging, is because Morgan Freeman’s voice is the voice of their brand.

Something we should note is that this particular relationship is exclusive. Freeman could not work for MasterCard or American Express because it would be a conflict of interest and run contrary to his professional objective to help shape public perception that Visa is the best credit card to have and that more people go with Visa.

To give you an idea of just how important Morgan Freeman’s voice is to Visa, the company had him brought in each day of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games to record the voice overs. As sponsors of one of the most prestigious international events on earth, Visa wanted their main man close by and part of the action.

In terms of this article as it relates to valuing your voice, Morgan Freeman is a prime example of how important a brand voice is to a company, and you can be certain that Visa pays handsomely for the ability to work with Freeman in this capacity.

Can You Overvalue Your Voice?

Given what you’ve read, what do you think?
I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this.
Best wishes,
© Waring


  1. Commercial reality – The majority of voiceoverists do over value their voices and sadly that would be the case at any price. What about the people who are not deluding themselves? If you are getting a large volume of work then you are one of the select few as the nature of voice over work is such that people selling their talents should not think it’s about volume.
    What should you do to protect your interests and your long-term career?
    Set a minimum session fee and stick to it NO MATTER WHAT.
    This site should set a minimum audition request fee at roughly the average weekly wage for someone in the US/Canada. Anyone wanting a VO below that price should listen to the demos as that’s why they are there.
    Remember that you are selling YOUR voice NOT a voice.
    Anyone starting out on the road to voice over heaven has a 95% chance of actually losing money let alone not making any. To stand any chance of getting somewhere you need a set of rules for your business and you need to put them in place on day 1. You’ll do it later when you’ve made a few dollars? Ok and when you do that also try to ski uphill.

  2. Philip makes some very good points. Once you start out working cheaply, when can you raise your rates? It’s understandable for newcomers to do whatever they can to book the job, and if that means working cheaper than anyone else, that’s what they do.
    I will say that working at a different minimum for different types of work makes sense. Telephone recordings and short web narrations might have a much lower minimum for you than local commercials. And local commercials would have a lower minimum than regional or national commercials. Setting the same minimum for ALL commercials makes no sense at all – unless of course, you use the national rate for all, but then you’ll probably cut yourself out of a lot of local and regional work. And by the way, the last I checked, there is no distinction between 30 and 60 second spots when it comes to union scale unlike most of the non-union rates which are posted as examples on many internet sites.
    The reason you don’t want to do national commercials at local rates is because of the usage, exposure, and exclusivity. You do a national commercial for a buyout of even $500, and you’ve potentially cut yourself out of thousands of dollars of work over a career! Most television commercial clients expect exclusivity. SAG contracts grant that exclusivity even for scale. Someone like Morgan Freeman works well above scale, but it’s most likely still under a SAG contract where Pension and Health are paid, and exclusivity is mandatory. Many clients expect exclusivity for radio commercials; however, technically, under AFTRA contracts, radio commercials are not exclusive – or at least that’s the way is was the last I knew. However, in a smaller market, out of respect for your client and in hopes of continued work from them, you might remain exclusive to them for as long as the commercial runs. Which brings up another point. Union contracts have time limitations – generally 13 weeks, and I believe cable and internet might be 8 weeks. If the client wants to use the spot after that time, another session and use fee are owed to you or in the case of internet and cable, there is a “one year”.buy out rate available. Non-union work is usually buy out forever. Once they pay you (and hopefully they do pay!) it’s theirs! That spot can run wherever they want forever…… Sure, you can write an agreement and have them sign it, but an agreement is only as good as their integrity or your ability to pursue it in court – which as an individual talent is not easy or cheap!

  3. Pricing your product is is not just a matter of looking at the particulars of a project. You also need to have a clear sense of your financial goals. For most freelancers, this is a topic they’d rather shy away from. Why? If they would really start figuring things out financially, then they’d realize that they’d proably be much better off working for someone else in a very different industry.
    So, ask yourself: How much do I actually need to make, to break even? How much profit do I wish to make in order to provide for my family, to realize my dreams and to give back to my community? Don’t pick that number out of a hat. You’ll just fool yourself into believing that you’re on the right track. Get real!
    Once you have figured out how much you minimally need to make in a year, start breaking it down by month, by week and by day. Again: don’t make assumptions. A succesful company like didn’t become a success based on assumptions. It’s based on hard work, extreme customer care, innovative technology, solid marketing and…. cold numbers.
    As independent contractors, we don’t have the luxury of a regular paycheck, and we have to budget for good months and for months that are not so good. You might be overjoyed that you just landed that $100 job. But realize that a lot has come out of those hundred bucks. It has to pay for your:
    marketing, advertising, bookkeeping, unproductive hours spent finding work, taxes, overhead, continued education, attorney, sick days, paid holidays, vacation, union dues, health insurance, dental insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, business insurance, unemployment, retirement, invoices that never get paid, paying off debts, saving for future investments and all other joys that come with running your own business.
    If you don’t build all these expenses into your fee, you’re basing your rate on imaginary figures, rather than on facts. In short: if you’re advertising yourself as a pro, you have to act like one and learn all there is to know about running a freelance business.
    We all know the stories about very talented actors who were living a dream until the money ran out, or someone else ran out with the money. Most of us aren’t geting anywhere based on talent alone.
    Authors Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan are fellow-freelancers who were on the verge of bankruptcy because they were doing what they loved doing, without a solid financial plan in place. Thankfully, they were able to get their act together before something big and smelly hit the fan.
    Based on their experiences they wrote “The Money Book for freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed.” It’s written for people like you and me who might not like reading about credit card debt, budgeting and saving for our retirement. But don’t worry: this book is written with humor, and with the not so financially savy in mind. And better still: in plain English.
    Go get it. Read it. Use it. Then we should talk again.

  4. I do agree that underpricing has drawbacks – if something doesn’t cost much it carries the stigma that it is not worth much – BUT – the use of Morgan Freeman as an example is not really appropriate, is it? The reason his voice is worth so much has to do with many years of struggle and committment as an actor. He has earned respect and trust from that and not just from voice over work. I think I would need a comparison with someone more typical of working VO talent than a universally well know actor and artist.

  5. Putting a value on your voice? It’s not the voice, it is the skill that you value. Voices are a dime a dozen. If you put the value on your voice, except in the rarest of circumstances, you are evaluating the wrong thing and probably are over-valuing it to boot.
    Putting a value on your skill is a different matter. If you read a 10 minute script to the director’s satisfaction with just two pick-ups, you are pretty skillful and worth a premium price. If you’re pick-ups match seamlessly because of good diaphragm control, you’re even better. If you consistently require no breath or mouth noise cleanup you are premium plus. If you are so consistent that you can voice match yourself two weeks after the original recording another plus. These are all skill things and to experienced people, worth the money. In a studio, the VO that does a 10 minute read in 15 minutes with only 5 minutes editing time is well worth $500/session or more depending on the nature of the VO.
    >>>The recommendation was that talent focus instead on forty $100 reads per week to reach their goals.
    This is terrible advice – TERRIBLE. If a VO has 40 separate jobs a week, they’ve got a mature business and don’t need to give their skill away. 20 separate jobs a week is a lively VO business…so if the goal is to make $4k/week…$200 jobs are the minimum rate for VO.
    As a general rule, if a client balks at paying you $200 for a session, you’re better off telling them to take a hike. That said, it is business; so a quick hit with a good pay client makes $100 much more reasonable. YMMV. 🙂

  6. Stephanie:
    You clearly understand the value of “value”. You detail all the factors that help determine value from a business sense very well.
    Protagonists of the dollar-a-holler philosophy in VO—or anything potentially unique and therefore more than just a commodity—may never understand what “value” really means. And clients that such thinkers get don’t understand value either, because, more often than not, they only get what they pay for and end up too often among those who say “that didn’t work” and not return, no matter how low the price goes.
    “Over valuing” a voice can happen. But that’s only if its owner doesn’t understand a market-based forum where value is ultimately determined by more things than price. Too often the voice who blinks first on price under values itself.
    Anyone who thinks doing 40 reads a week at $100 each to achieve their goals has limited their goal to just $4000 a week. Not chump change if sustainable over a year, but I doubt many would get hired to do 40 reads at any price every week anyway, unless its for a specific, perhaps long term client. Even then, the value per read is likely more. That’s been my experience.
    Although clearly at the “Tiffany’s end” of the example spectrum, your Morgan Freeman-Visa partnership illustrates my point.
    Mike Hanson

  7. Hi everyone,
    Thank you for taking some time to share your thoughts on this topic.
    @Philip I agree that a voice over artist should have a minimum session fee. Thank you for making that recommendation.
    @Melanie You make good points that each kind of voice over might have a different minimum fee, specifically taking the scope of the voice over, its usage and audience size into account. Thank you for sharing your perspective.
    @Paul Thank you for reminding people that numbers do matter when you run a business! Numbers can be a wake up call. Great points 🙂
    @Mike Buckley I’m not sure the exact amount but I’m certain that Morgan Freeman makes well above scale for the voice over work that he does. I wouldn’t be surprised if the spots go for 5 or 6 figures. Great question! To give some perspective, someone at the top of their game recording movie trailers could command 5 figures per trailer so it wouldn’t be entirely shocking that a big brand would pay their voice artist similar fees.
    @Julia Thank you for commenting Julia, and I’m glad we agree on drawbacks for quoting less than one’s services may be worth. With regard to the Morgan Freeman example, the point wasn’t to single out a top celebrity earner but to identify how much someone, a voice talent or brand representative, can mean to a company like Visa in terms of perceived trust and brand equity. As for an example of a working pro voice with similar relationships with their client? If anyone wants to give an example of someone they feel matches what Julia is asking about, please do!
    @Steve Thank you for adding your voice to the conversation. You’re right to say that price is greatly determined by the skills being brought to the table.
    @Mike Hanson I’m glad that what I shared resonated with you! Morgan Freeman was one of the most recognizable branding voices that I could think of at the time to illustrate the point that if a company values working with an artist, they do so for a number of reasons and cost becomes a lesser factor in the reason why they work together.

  8. One of the main values of having broadcast agents (everyone needs them in various geographical locations including overseas) is that they know how to price various jobs. You talk here about Morgan Freeman…he doesn’t price anything. He talks. He acts. His people take care of the money. That’s what I do when I voice a national product or a product for sale to the public. Online is different. We have to set prices for things, mostly according to how much time the audio engineering plus voicing it is going to take. Time is money. But…there are hundreds upon hundreds of people out here in webland who do voiceovers for pleasure or are a highschool or college student just trying to make a buck. That’s a different scenario. It’s the difference between taking a summer job at an ice cream store when you’re sixteen and supporting your family with a job when you are forty. Can’t compare. So how one values one’s time is really what this discussion is about. The voice has very little to do with this topic…it is how you run your business, your own business as an entrepreneur that this is about. The title change would probably have brought more cogent comments. However, some of you were very perceptive in what you said here about running your business like a business and not a hobby. You know, I advocate to young people that if still in college, or even later in life for that matter, some courses in business adm. would be a very good idea!

  9. Hi Bettye,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are right to assume that Morgan Freeman likely doesn’t negotiate his own contracts, however, using him as an example of what his talent adds to the brand perception is perfectly relevant and an example that we are all familiar with.
    The topic of the article was deliberate to explore where the value lay in voice over. I feel the comments left by our community and readership were cogent and all are welcome here.
    The misconception most people have is that the voice is where the value lies. We have dispelled that here. It’s what the talent brings to the table that matters and plays a significant role in determining the price of that voice over.
    Having a head for business is most necessary if you want to dictate terms or negotiate with clients in need of your voice. This is part of what an agent does for their talent and it’s also something you can do for yourself.
    If anyone else would like to share, the floor is yours 🙂
    Best regards,

  10. A parable…One day a seasoned plumber was called to a house with a leaky pipe. The basement was flooding and the homeowner was in a panic. The plumber came, inspected the pipe and fixed it in fifteen minutes. The homeowner was relieved and delighted by the prompt and efficient work. Then the plumber gave the homeowner a bill for $500.
    The homeowner was outraged, asking “How could he charge so much for just 15 minutes of work?”
    The plumber looked at the homeowner, took back the bill and revised it to read, “Time to fix a leaky pipe = $50. Knowing how to fix the leaky pipe plus willing and able to fix the pipe when, where and how you wanted it fixed = $450.00. Saving your home from catastrophic loss = priceless. Total due still just $500.”
    In a similar way, a photo takes a fraction of a second to shoot, the experience to take that winning photo – a lifetime. If you think about it, anything professionally done well and appearing easy, comes with a huge investment of years, effort and money which must be part of the value of your work.
    If you needed surgery would you look for the cheapest or the best surgeon? So why are clients even wanting the cheapest voice instead of the best for the work?
    People pay us to deliver what they can’t do. People pay us to professionally turn words on a page into a work of verbal art.
    There is no excuse to treat VO differently than any other profession?

  11. Out of everyone who commented here, Mitch hit the nail on the head.
    With the advent of P2P sites, my rates have gone up ever since. Not a lot mind you, but steadily up, not down. In turn, by distancing myself from those who work for $100, business couldn’t be better.
    Indeed, the subject of this thread should be “The Price Difference Between Hiring a Rookie and Hiring a Pro – How Undercutting Is Ruining The VO Industry.”
    Todd Schick


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