A Not-So-Modest VO Proposal

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It’s time for voice talent to think “outside the booth” when it comes to how we do business.

My goal today is nothing less than to revolutionize the voiceover industry, to engender a change in the way we operate that I believe will go a long way towards righting the sinking ship of declining rates, and return us to a course of sustainable incomes. Have I got your attention? You’re still reading so I’ll take that as a “yes.”

To be successful, this bold undertaking would require unity and co-ordination, fresh thinking and clarity of communication, commitment to a standard from a standard averse community of home studio equipped talent. It would require us to open our minds to lessons we can learn from other professionals who contribute their skills to the same projects that we do, but who have found a way to be fairly compensated for elements they provide that are beyond the scope of their talents alone.

The beauty of my proposal is its simplicity; a tiny modification to a function that we already perform that would empower us to plant the flag of fairness and declare to the world that “I am a professional and I will be treated as such!” What is this earth shattering change? Well, it’s a modification to the way we handle our bookkeeping, or more specifically our billing.

Sorry for the breathless hype, but admit it, you’d have bailed by the second paragraph if I had led with the bookkeeping thing.

Here’s the deal: when we invoice clients for recording and editing projects at home we should be invoicing our studio fee as a separate line item. Not necessarily charging more in total, but breaking out a studio rental portion of our bids to cover our cost of operation with a reasonable markup. If you already are doing this good for you, but I know that I haven’t been. I plan to start.

As I said, this is standard operating procedure for many others in the media production world. Drawing from my experience as a production accountant let me give a few examples of how this works on most fully professional video shoots that I’ve worked on:

Freelance make up artists are hired to make on camera talent presentable. In addition to working their artistic magic, they have to maintain their cases of lotions and potions and tote them to set. In return for this they charge a kit rental fee of $150 or more per day on top of their daily labor fees. When HD video became the norm, airbrushing and other advanced and more costly techniques were required, so kit rental fees went up accordingly.

Camera, art department and grip crew members often provide their own pieces of gear for a shoot. They rent them to production for their own use, and these fees are charged as equipment, not labor, against the production budget. I’ve seen fees for cameras, lens packages, focus pullers, screens, scrims, lighting gear, trucks, props, you name it paid to crew members and no one bats an eye, because that’s how the production world works.

Sound guys break out their gear charges separately, too. If they provide walkie-talkies for the crew it gets billed. Caterers bill for food as well as a kit rental fees for the use of service and preparation equipment, again on top of their labor. Heck, even on camera talent are often reimbursed if they wear their own clothes for wardrobe! The bottom line (pun intended) is this: no one expects something for nothing on a professional film and video set.

This makes so much more sense to me than the VO model of a “one price covers all” bid. Why?

Because it’s fair.

In addition to covering the not insignificant cost of maintenance and depreciation of the items used, it reminds production that these professionals have made a serious investment in equipment, and deserve to be compensated for its use.

A time machine would be handy to go back and suggest to the early pioneers of the home voiceover studio model that they should charge a separate fee for studio use. Is it too late to implement this practice now? I don’t know, but I plan to try it to find out.

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment in yonder form below.

My next post will be part two of my three part series on tricks I use to get over my dread of sales when it comes to my voiceover business.

As always, thanks for reading! If you’d like to sign up for my mailing list, it’s 100% spam free. Talk at ya’ soon! – Tim

 

 

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