How To Start A Voice Over Talent Business

To make a living, voice over talents used to have to physically go to gigs recorded in commercial production facilities. Now, gigs can come to them with in-home studios and through the Internet. But for many voice over talents, newbie and old pro alike, outfitting a home studio is technically baffling. So, how do you make that spare bedroom or corner of your studio apartment (no pun intended) into a functional voice over facility, with decent acoustics and the appropriate equipment? Let’s take a look at the basics involved in setting up a home voiceover studio.

Selecting Your Studio Space

A studio of any size or recording purpose starts with the space in which it will be located. Isolation from outside sounds is important. If you live in a studio or one-bedroom apartment, then try to locate your “studio” in a corner as far from the door to the hallway and away from windows. Also, a closet can work well as a recording booth. Set up your recording equipment just outside the closet and your microphone inside the closet.

If you live in a two-plus bedroom unit or a single-family home and can dedicate an entire room to your studio, then you’ll have more options available for controlling the acoustics of the space. You’ll want to make sure the room doesn’t sound too “echoey” or “hollow.” Treating these problems can be as simple as putting some overstuffed furniture in the room, along with a rug and some drapes over the windows. Have a lot of old clothes sitting in an attic or basement? You can use them to create a recording “booth” around your mic. Fill three or four rolling clothes racks with clothes and then position them on the sides and back of your mic position.

Of course, you can use professional acoustic materials to control sound reflections. You’ll find an excellent primer on acoustical treatment – in plain English – at Auralex. Check out these acoustical treatment production companies, too: HSF Acoustics; Silent Source; Vocalbooth; Whisper Room.



Selecting Your Equipment

Once you have your studio space selected, you’ll need to properly equip it in order to deliver pro quality voiceovers to clients. With the latest in digital recording technology and reasonably priced pro microphones, you could spend as little as $1000 for a very basic, yet serviceable, home voiceover studio. That’s assuming you have a decent computer sound card and speakers. The list is quite short: $200-$250 for a microphone… $40 for a mic pop filter to prevent “popping” your P’s, B’s, and T’s… $45 for a mic stand… $200-$250 for a USB or Firewire digital recording interface… $65 for shareware recording software… $45 for headphones… $40 for cables… $100 for accoutrements… Bare bones, but it will work and you may be able to find some great deals out there.

Plug your microphone cable into the digital recording interface, which is a little box that amplifies and processes the signal from the mic. Plug the interface into your computer’s sound card. Plug your headphones into the interface. Load the recording/editing software. A couple of adjustments to volume in and out and you’re ready to record. Voice the copy. Clean it up with an edit or two. Then convert the voiceover sound file to a .mp3 file, attach it to an email, and send it off to the client via the Internet. To learn more about the equipment listed above, search the web or visit online pro audio dealers. A few good ones are: Full Compass; Sweetwater; B&H Pro Audio; Boynton Pro Audio; BSW.

This simple studio set up is serviceable, but it has its limits. If a client wants to direct you via the phone, then you’ll have to either hold the phone to your ear while you record, or get a hands-free headset. You could also buy a gizmo call a phone hybrid that allows you to speak through your mic down the phone line to your client as you listen to the client’s direction through your headphones.

Good To Know

As with any investment, you’ll need to research the equipment you’ll need for your studio, and how to install and use it. See if you can locate a voice talent in your area that may let you visit his or her studio. Visit Mix Magzine or EQ Magazine and check their archives for articles on home studios. Local production houses may be willing to make suggestions, but, remember, by setting up your own studio, you’re indicating to clients that they can cut out the production house by working directly with you. That may not sit well with some production house owners, because the home voiceover explosion has had a detrimental impact on many commercial recording facilities.

That’s a basic home voiceover studio in a nutshell. If you can operate a home stereo and have experience in front of a computer screen, then you can put together and operate a home voiceover studio. With a little practice recording and editing, and some promotion of your home studio, you can quickly recover the cost of your studio and add to begin to add to your bottom line.



Getting Paid

Okay, so you’ve launched your voice-over business. You market your demo. You network. You audition. You get gigs. Now all you have to do is get paid.

Union vs Non-Union

For AFTRA and/or SAG union talent, getting paid in a timely fashion is a benefit of union membership. It’s built into the union contract. Union talents fill out a form at the session and then submit it to a paymaster (someone contracted with the union to handle talent payroll). The paymaster ensures that the talent is paid within a time period specified by the union contract.

Non-union talent and financial core talent doing non-union work are totally responsible for collecting what’s owed to them. Financial core, if you aren’t familiar with the term, refers to less than full union membership. Financial core union members have paid the portion of dues and fees dedicated strictly to collective bargaining, excluding any activity not directly related to collective bargaining. You might call it “union lite.” Financial core members do not have voting rights and cannot hold elective office in the union, but they also do not have to abide by union rules and regulations.

Types of Clients

So, what payment policy should you, the non-union talent, adopt? Just as the Internet has changed the voice-over business by making the home voiceover studio possible, the Internet has changed collection by making it possible to take payment electronically. PayPal is just one of a number of the online options that make requesting immediate payment possible, instead of sending a paper invoice through the postal system and then waiting for a paper check to be sent to you. But before discussing methods of accepting payment, let’s look at the various types of clients out there and the payment policy that may best apply to each one.

Most businesses base their payment policies on assessment of risk. Assessing the risk you take with a client usually is a matter of simple common sense. If an individual contacts you through your web site and asks you to narrate a wedding video or tribute to a deceased relative, then probably it would be wise to request payment up front before delivering the voice over. If the individual balks at paying up front, then you can agree to voice the script, play the voice-over down the phone line to prove you did it, get paid, and then deliver the voiceover.

Working with ad agencies and production houses usually means giving up a little control of payment terms. You can request payment up front, but most ad agencies and production houses expect to be invoiced. You can put “due on receipt” on the invoice, but that is often interpreted as “30 days net.” There are some excellent ad agencies and production houses out there that pay promptly, but very often you will have to wait 30 days or more for payment. Be aware: many smaller ad agencies and production houses have adopted a policy of not paying you until they get paid. In the ad biz, this means you can wait a long time for payment.

Doing voice work directly for mid-sized to large corporations usually means having to bill on a 30-day net basis. This means, in essence, that you end up offering 30 days credit interest-free. The good thing is the risk of not getting paid is usually low. Will some companies push payment out 60 days and even further? Yes, but again you’ll eventually get paid.



Payment Options

So, let’s go through the individual types of clients and your payment options.

For individuals, request immediate payment. As described above, play the completed voiceover down the phone to prove it was done and then ask for payment. Once payment is made, deliver the voice over.

For direct work with larger companies, ad agencies, and production houses, request immediate payment upon receipt of invoice. If they say their policy is 30 days, try for 15. For long-form voiceovers involving many pages and a large talent fee, try requesting 50 percent up front and 50 percent upon delivery of the project.

Remember everything is negotiable. You can even barter for part of your fee. Of course, keep track of your receivables (what’s owed you). When a client does not pay by the due date, send a statement. Make a polite but firm phone call requesting payment. Be proactive. Most people pay their bills. But for many clients your invoice will not be top of the pile, so to speak.

Online Payments

Now, back to collecting via payments online. PayPal is a very popular site for collecting or sending payments. Just visit PayPal.com and sign up. Clients can pay by credit card or through electronic transfer from a checking account. You’ll receive an email telling you when the transfer of funds has occurred. This makes it perfect for collecting an up front payment. As soon as you receive the email, you can deliver the voiceover. http://www.worldpay.com and http://www.verisign.com are two other online payment processors you can check out, too.

Want to take credit cards? You’ll have to open a merchant account in order to accept them. It will cost you a fee to open the account, a monthly fee, a fee for each transaction, and a percentage of each sale. Do an online search for credit card merchant accounts and compare costs and services to get the best deal.

Direct wire transfer is a third electronic payment option. Set up a checking account used exclusively for wire transfers. You supply the client with your checking account number and the banks routing number, and the client transfers funds directly from his account to yours. It works well and can cost virtually nothing depending on the deal on the account you get from your bank.

With a payment policy in place, you’ll gain greater control over how and when you get paid. Hey, it might be a really fun business, but it’s no fun not getting paid.

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