How to Hire a UK Voiceover Artist
10 tips for good teamwork between clients, production houses and artists
What are your rates?
Here’s the script – how much?
Can you do a 30 quid buy-out with an NDA for all online media forever?
These are all genuine questions I’ve been asked in recent times by actual people who work in the video production industry.
As you can probably appreciate, my friendly and honest answers to these questions were: ”well, that depends on the project”, ”thanks, how are you planning to use my recording?” and ”no, I’m really sorry, that barely covers my overheads (is this a joke?)”.
If you’re looking to hire a British voiceover artist at any point in your career, whatever sector you work in, I would encourage you to please read and share this post with your colleagues, managers, marketing and accounting departments, events organisers, and end clients.
But before we move on to our Top 10 tips for voiceover hiring, there are two key things that professional hirers should know first.
Broadly speaking, a voiceover performance is a hire purchase
When you buy a voiceover, you are – in most cases – only hiring, renting, or leasing the recording for a mutually agreed purpose and period of time.
This is an important point, which is enshrined in UK and EU copyright law.
Voiceover artists (like musicians) have ”performers’ rights”, which allow artists to control the use of their recordings, after they’ve agreed to be recorded.
These performers’ rights also include the right to fair payment (”equitable remuneration”) for the use of an artist’s sound recordings. Payment for the use of vocal recordings is called ”usage fees” – and there are industry rate structures for this. A good analogy is music industry royalties.
The use or usage of a voiceover artist’s voice recordings is known as a ”licence” or ”licensing”.
So while James Bond has a licence to kill, voiceover artists have a licence to thrill (and bill).
It pays to pay a professional
The history of economics can teach us a lot about hiring a voiceover artist. Seriously. Here are a few literary quotes to bear in mind, before you ask for a price quote:
- ”Buy cheap, buy twice” – Proverb
- ”You get what you pay for” – Gabriel Bell (15th century dude).
- ”…Paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done.” – John Ruskin (1819-1900).
- ”If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.” – Red Adair (1915-2004).
- ”Price is what you pay, value is what you get” – Warren Buffett (1930-not dead yet).
If you don’t believe any of these dead folks, consider old Warren’s wisdom. He’s worth $86.7 billion.
And, as ”knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice” (Anton Chekov, 1860-1904), let’s look at our Top 10 tips for voiceover hiring below.
Top 10 tips for voiceover hiring
1. Have a budget and prepare to negotiate
Money is a delicate subject, but we all have to get down to business eventually. So once the pleasantries are done, state your budget (if you have one) and listen to the response.
If you don’t have a budget, also listen. If you’re thinking about walking away, remember Rule #2.
Be open and honest. Respect each other’s point of view. Then start negotiating. Settle on a price, including how the audio will be used. Remember Rule #1.
Consider that you’re dealing with a person who’s eager to show you the value in their pricing, by doing a fantastic job for you.
2. Know exactly how your recording will be used
Before making contact, grab a pen and paper and write down exactly how you want your voiceover recording to be consumed. Be strict and specific.
Will it be kept within the business or will it be publicly consumed?
Do you plan to use it in radio and TV adverts, corporate video, explainer videos, podcasts, animations, award ceremonies, trade shows, e-learning, audiobooks, on hold messaging, toys, or games? Is it in the UK only, or worldwide?
If it’s a video production, will it be used at events, on DVD, on a website, on You Tube, on social media or something else?
Once you’ve fully itemised how the audio will be used, tell your artist. They will thank you for shortening the quoting process, so they don’t have to give you the Spanish inquisition.
3. Know for how long you want to use the recording
You’ve decided how you’re going to use the recording. Now you need to say how long.
Remember Rule #1, as ”usage” (a.k.a. the ”licence”) is a key part of your recording agreement.
If you’ve forgotten a usage item, or want to add one, tell your artist straight away. If you don’t, and you use the recording for something that was not agreed, you’ll be breaching your contract. Remember again Rule #1.
Be realistic about how relevant this recording is going to be in a year to two years’ time, or longer. Bear in mind that products date, technology advances, needs change, and that businesses and markets constantly evolve. Do you really want a video where it, and everyone in it, looks like they’re from another era?
Don’t be swayed by Britain’s obsession with ownership. You’re hiring a voice, so remember Rule #1. Be sensible: is a buy-out in perpetuity really necessary, practically or financially?
Be assured that fixed-term usage contracts (licences) are industry standard, flexible, and cost-effective. Think back to Rule #1 once more.
4. Write a good script
If you’re not working with a professional copywriter (remember Rule #2), get your message across simply. Write for the ear, not the eye. We hear words differently from how we read them in our heads.
Read the script aloud. Is the word count like War and Peace? Time it. Take out alliteration, repetition, and words that people would stumble over. Don’t go too fast. Can people understand it? Keep the writing tight. One line, one breath is a good start.
Accept that it’s often easier to record the voice first than to make the artist do the impossible. Understand that a real performance may be paced differently from your dummy run, because professional storytelling requires pausing and emphasis.
If it’s a video, test the script against the visuals. Be prepared to make adjustments.
If the script has been translated, does it sound natural to a native English speaker?
Finalise the script and get it ”signed off”. Recording a script and then changing your mind will cost time and money.
5. Give good direction
You don’t have to be Steven Spielberg, but explain what feeling, pace and tone you want to convey. Your voiceover artist will have a good idea from the script, but a few adjectives can help. The artist will appreciate the collaboration. They just want to do a great job for you.
Also, how and where will the recording be heard? This can affect how the artist delivers their performance.
A good brief should make the recording exactly that: brief.
6. Know your post-production plan
If your artist is self-directing or only recording at their end, do you want the raw files to edit yourself? Do you want the artist to edit and number them? Do you want multiple takes?
Think about what audio formats you need. Accept that editing long chunks of audio takes time. Take care to budget for this.
Do you have a special web portal to drop files, or are you happy to download them from a WeTransfer email link?
7. Agree payment terms and dates
It’s another awkward money matter, but important to get right. Be explicit about your recording and usage/licensing agreement, so there is no ambiguity.
Agree payment terms in writing and stick to them e.g. payment on receipt, or within 30 days. Be honest about the timing of your pay runs.
8. Follow the licence/usage agreement
Create a ‘bring forward’ file to prepare for when your usage agreement is up. You don’t want to be caught using the audio beyond your usage agreement. It’s a breach of both contract and performers’ rights law. Remember Rule #1. Being prepared will spare you expense, uncomfortable emails, and your professional reputation.
9. Offer the artist a copy of their work
Be first to offer the artist a finished copy of their work, before they ask. If there are legal or contractual reasons why this won’t be possible, be open about this. Understand that your artist’s ability to promote their latest work on their website or social media is also free advertising for you. Otherwise, see if it’s possible for your artist to share their work privately through e-mail.
10. Say thank you
A personal email or a testimonial are great ways to say thank you to a voiceover artist for their contribution to your creative project. It’s a sign of appreciation, a mark of teamwork, and makes everyone feel good. Gratitude is not only good for the soul, but also great for ongoing business relations. Remember Rule #2.
11. Bonus tip: be professional
Ok, so there weren’t exactly ten tips. But the best recording artists like to set their amplifiers to 11, don’t you know.
However, keep practising numbers 1 to 10, and you will mark yourself out as a professional rock god of voiceover hiring – and can expect a long career of worthwhile collaborations, built on quality work, mutual respect and trust.
It sounds obvious, but hiring a professional voiceover artist requires professionalism from all sides.
Happy hiring. Please share via the social media buttons below.
Further hiring tips
The above article’s expert-sourced and peer-reviewed legal information does not constitute legal advice. Clients or artists seeking clarification of legal terms should seek their own legal advice from a qualified legal practitioner or trade union legal department.
© Copyright Chas Rowe 2018