One of the lessons free lancers – independent contractors – need to learn in this Internet age is to negotiate a fair price for their work. We see it day after day – people wanting the free lancer to work – well, to work not necessarily for free, but close to it. And in fact, in some cases – people DO expect it for free. It is happening in all creative areas.
Oh, for the good old days…
You wouldn’t ask the plumber to cut rates by half or more. The dry cleaner. The tailor. The electrician. But on the creative side of things – the graphic artist, the writer, or the voice talent – it seems like a “name that tune” experience nearly every day.
Part of it is educating the people doing the hiring. But the people doing the work need a bit of education as well in order to arrive at a rate that is fair for everyone.
This is tough, because there are no set rates other than union rates – and those don’t cover every new genre of voiceover work. Nor does the union understand how the majority of voiceover people work these days – in their own studios, on their own time, with their own tools. Some union contracts have value, but a lot are simply hangovers from days gone by. Some rates are too high – and others are too low. And some areas of voiceover are simply not even addressed.
And the scale rates also don’t take into consideration the additional money the producer pays for payroll taxes (the talent is working as an employee), disability, social security and health and retirement benefits. So if you are using union contracts as a guide, be sure to add the extra %!
Nor do the scale union rates consider that the talent will be using their own studio, which under the old model was extra. Then, add to the confusion that the new producers (outside the major markets) might not know any differently. The idea that they would hire a voice talent and then hire a studio to engineer and edit may simply not even occur to them.
And most of the work being done today is non-union. There are “suggested” non-union rates, but these are all over the map. And none of these union or non-union rates are applicable across all projects.
One key area for each side of this coin to think about is “usage.” What is the product designed to do? And where will the end product show up and for how long? Creatives – be prepared to ask. Producers – be prepared to tell.
What is the product designed to do?
Let’s stick to the voiceover side of things for the example. Is the script in front of me going to train in-house people on a process or change the way they think about a process? Or is the end product promoting a product/service to a potential client? Both have value.
Both the producer and the talent need to be aware of the potential for profit for the person paying the bills. While you may not be able to predict profit, you at least must be aware of the potential. This is a starting point for negotiations. If you don’t consider it at all, then there is no room to haggle. Not that I am encouraging a lot of haggling!
Where will the end product show up and for how long?
How will the final product be used? Is is going to be shown only on a company website with plans to upgrade it each quarter? Or is the script generic and the clients wants all rights in perpetuity throughout the known universe (yes, read the fine print!).
I call it shelf-life and eyeballs/ears. And it is part of any response to the emails that come in saying “How much?” Using those words can break the ice a little when tiptoeing around the dollars.
Usage has Value!
What we do as voice talent is of value to our clients. It will help them communicate to someone to achieve a certain result. That result could be sales. It could be happy productive workers. We all need to aware of what these results could be. Will it keep visitors at a plant safe? Will it cut production costs? Will the project be seen by millions of people over the course of a 10-year lifetime? Will it be seen once by a 12-person board of directors – who control a 6 billion dollar company? Or will it be shown to the board of a small non-profit. Will it help sell thousands of low-dollar product, or hundreds of high-dollar packages?
While results and sales figures can’t possibly be known before the project is produced, we should all evaluate the potential as we negotiate.
Our joint job is to recognize that there is a new business paradigm created by the internet. Some of us have been in business since before the Internet became ubiquitous. We see the changes and struggle to figure out how to stay in business as rates plummet. For those who know nothing of a time before the Internet, they must try to understand that lowering the rate of pay for the creative people who create and produce their messages to a level where they can’t stay in business will result in everyone losing.
One way to help this along is to use an agent. Yes, consider using a middleman…the person the Internet has basically cut out of the equation. An agent will know to ask these questions. Agents are used to discussing rates. Creatives are not as a whole. It has become a very stressful part of a talent’s job – and actually can create barriers to creativity.
In the end, there will be compromise of course. But always, when negotiating directly with the talent, or using an agent, there has to be awareness of the value of the work that is being done.