Voiceover Gear, Quality and Rates… a Correlation?
By Dan Friedman
Two of the biggest ongoing issues in the voiceover world are gear and rates. It seems that voice talent (or voice talent wannabes) are always looking for the latest, greatest, smallest and cheapest piece of gear that is good enough to record audio. They also seem to want the ability to do this from just about anywhere. The issue of rates is always a big concern. Job offers for payments that fall considerably short of generally accepted rates frequent the internet. These offers are often discussed as being reprehensible or even laughed at on social media. So, is there a correlation between cheap gear and low rates?
Portability and the ability to respond quickly to client requests are key factors that drive the need for much of this gear. The desire to provide for clients is essential to your VO business and let’s face it, the gear is often pretty cool and some of it sounds quite good. But the environment plays a much bigger role in your overall sound and just because you can record from your car or a hotel room, doesn’t mean you should. Other than your voice and performance, nothing has a greater effect on your sound than the environment you’re in.
Consistency and quality are critical for great sounding productions. These can only be guaranteed when the environment is a professional one, usually a professionally equipped recording studio or home studio. Consistency is especially critical when it comes to revisions. Even musicians, who are the largest consumers of recording gear, know that most of this low-end gear is for laying down ideas and for doing pre-production. When they are ready to make an album, serious musicians will usually go to a professional recording studio.
One of the biggest complaints about the voiceover industry, from those who are in it, is that so many people think that voiceover is easy and anyone can do it. Well, it should come as no surprise that when people brag about recording from their car, on their smart phones and through the multitude of cheap pieces of plastic that are now available at the megastore down the street, outsiders may believe that this is not all that difficult. Newbies don’t always understand performance or quality, but they usually understand the concept of making money from anywhere for very little investment.
On the flip-side, clients who (to their detriment) don’t always care about quality are not going to offer higher rates if they think the job can be done anywhere and/or with nothing more than a USB microphone plugged into a laptop. Clients who know better are usually willing to pay for the quality and service that come with a professional talent, who records in a professional environment, on professional gear. They understand that, just like in their own businesses, to be among the best requires an investment in time and money. Clients can justify higher talent payments more easily when they know that the audio will be professionally recorded and will be consistent from one session to the next.
Having higher-quality equipment and a proper recording space helps you to justify demanding a higher price for your work. Good clients understand the correlation between your investment in training and gear and the value that results.
If you are a voiceover talent, who loves and respects this industry, you will hopefully continue to work towards providing the highest quality audio possible and consistency from one session to the next. This doesn’t mean that you should not provide for your clients in emergency situations… you should. It also does not mean that you must have the most expensive pieces of gear. It simply means that you will continue to seek out the best equipment for you and your situation until you reach the point that any change would not provide a significant improvement. Do not stop at “good enough.”
A fantastic reminder to never settle for “good enough.”
I think the final paragraph sums it all up perfectly.
Always work towards that next level.
Another great piece, Dan. I’m not surprised.
I would like to start a movement that we, as purveyors of effective communication, strive to remove the phrase “good enough” from wherever it may appear in our day-to-day discussions. The word ‘enough’ sets a limit. Do creative professionals like to be limited? No. With limits there can be no true creativity.
The idea of hiring professional voice talent is not so much that the finished project “sounds nice.” It’s so that the message (script) is interpreted by someone who knows how to treat the words and deliver them in an appropriate manner to the intended audience, with the first goal being to entice them to keep listening so that the ultimate goal (motivation to action) can be achieved.
It’s sad, but clients who unfortunately either don’t know the difference in quality or simply don’t care are shooting themselves in the foot. Because if the company elearning isn’t turning out new staff members who know procedure, the company will try to determine why. Doing things over (and over) again until they’re right isn’t saving money; it’s wasting money.
It’s the quality in the interpretation and the read that are first and foremost for voice talent. But voice talent who work from home also have a responsibility to deliver to their clients audio that is also of professional quality.
Good equipment won’t make up for lack of skill, talent or experience. But, on the other side of the coin, we can’t call ourselves professional if we seek out and buy equipment that’s “good enough.”
Cream always rises to the top.
Owning quality gear is great. I’m all for it. Knowing how to use it is even better! In one of my recent interviews, Bodalgo’s CEO Armin Hierstetter complained about the poor quality of the demos he receives (http://wp.me/pBTtY-1VJ). If your recording is not up to snuff, he won’t even let you sign up for his site.
Dan’s absolutely right: even the venerable Neumann U87 won’t make you sound any better in an untreated, unprofessional recording space.
Ultimately, our rate is a reflection of a number of factors. Just because we invested in top gear, doesn’t mean we can start charging more. Clients don’t care about our costs. They care about the quality of the end product and about getting value for money.
I don’t think restaurants should add two dollars to every item on the menu because the owner just bought some top of the line pots and pans.
Dan… what an interesting point you’re making regarding the correlation between cheap gear and cheap rates.
Right on! I’ve felt this a way for some time now as I watch all this new gear flooding the market. I love your statements like… “just because you have gear that lets you record in a hotel room doesn’t mean you should.” and
“clients are willing to pay for quality audio”. This is why I like working for production companies.
Yes, we have inadvertently guided clients toward lower rates with the existence of all this cheaper gear. Making it look so easy and fast like all of us are recording our work on the fly while at the beach somewhere or in some hotel out of town for a convention! Btw, where the hell is everybody going? I don’t travel that much. I love the sound of my stationary studio!
Also, I love the sound of my Miktek CV4. You and me , Bubba. We got it going on!
Thanks for pointing out this “gear vs rate” reality.
Nicely said, Dan…
Thankfully, despite the way cheaper gear is sounding better all the time, there is still a dramatic difference between a professional studio (or a professional designed home studio) and the toys…. The difference ensures professional voice actors can still eat!
All the best!
That Aussie Voice of Technology.
[…] August 14, 2011 by Bob My friend Dan Friedman writes a compelling blog post about the connection between using quality gear and charging professional rates for voiceover work. Well worth your […]
I’ve been saying this for years Dan. Very happy to read someone else gets it.
Since the internet auditions and home studios, it’s been a race to the bottom in terms of audio quality.
Presentation is everything, and you are not better than you sound.
When I set up a studio in my home I asked a man who was a qualified electronics engineer/audio engineer/studio builder/commercial producer what I should do. He said.
“Buy the best mic you CAN’T afford”
Great piece, Dan.
Thank you all for your kind words, input, comments and just for stopping by my site. I’ll keep trying to write helpful articles. Please feel free to share them (I have that book out there as well if you know anyone who could benefit from it). Thank you again. I have so much respect for all of you and am thankful to call you friends and colleagues. Have a great day!
Yes, I clearly had too much fiber the day of my original reply. What I was trying to say was pretty much what Mike Sommer said so much better.
Great job with the blog. Enjoyed getting more insight into what you do, as well as reading the comments of your peers.
[…] need gear. It takes equipment to record high quality audio. You don’t need to spend a great deal of money […]