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A New Perspective on Rates

with Liz Atherton

Rates and Dates – things that make us panic, but are the key to our VO financial livelihood. Get your pens and paper out folks – you are going to want to listen and take notes, and listen, again, as VO Boss and host, Anne Ganguzza, along with special guest, Liz Atherton, get into the nitty-gritty of the rate game!


Quick Concepts from Today’s Episode:

  1. Liz has a special perspective on rates – what an agent thinks!

  2. Effective/lasting rate change: The tail wagging the dog.

  3. The “collective” must stick to “what seems fair.”

  4. Rates should be based on conflicts.

  5. What work do you do that “excludes” doing similar work?

  6. What work are you potentially NOT getting?

  7. If your voice is out there you are effectively endorsing that product – a reason for developing several, non-similar voices!

  8. The GVAA rate guide is an excellent starting place for setting rates.

  9. The GVAA vets their rate assumptions with industry experts – this makes them extra good!.

  10. Watch your rates and increase for year-to-year usage.

  11. Rates are suggested and negotiated with agent/client and agent/talent.

  12. Let’s discuss how you negotiate rates with new clients.

  13. Agents make many daily assumptions and negotiations on behalf of their talent which, in effect, affect rates for everyone.

  14. All of your invoices should include: 1. Product, 2.Usage (Distribution): Where is the VO airing (Local: Your nearby city; Regional: Parts of a whole – cities should be named, etc),

  15. Usage: Commercial, Promo, ADR, etc., and Length of Buy: Usually cut up by quarter (In perpetuity is a DIRTY, BAD, AWFUL word)

  16. Don’t think of projects in terms of Union and Non-Union – think in terms of projects, distribution, usage, and rebuys!

  17. Rates – don’t panic! Relisten to this podcast and take more notes – this will help your pocketbook!

Referenced in this Episode

Direct links to things we brought up ++

  1. Check out the GVAA Rate Guide

  2. Find out about 

  3. Recorded on ipDTL

  4. Awesome editing by Carl Bahner


>> It’s time to take your business to the next level, the BOSS level! These are the premier business owner strategies and successes being utilized by the industry has top talent today. Rock your business like a BOSS, a VO BOSS. Now let’s welcome your host Anne Ganguzza.

Anne: Welcome everybody, to the VO BOSS podcast. I’m your host, Anne Ganguzza, along with special guest cohost, queen bee Liz Atherton. Hey Liz. How are you?

Liz: Hey Anne. I’m good, how are you doing?

Anne: I’m doing good. I can’t believe we’re recording here, today.

[both laugh]

Liz: Wait a minute. A huge shout-out to Dave Crockett. My God, his studio is the bomb. Oh my God.

Anne: Yes, a big thank you, big shout-out. Yes, for allowing you to record in his amazing studio, and it’s been a pleasure getting to know Dave. First and foremost, thank you. For our BOSS listeners, by the way, you know that we don’t record this live. So we’re here on Academy Award Sunday, missing the fashion right now, so that we can talk to you guys about a super important topic, and I’m going to love to get Liz’s perspective on this, rates.

Liz: Yes, rates. But Anne, before we jump into that, can I tell you an Oscar story?

Anne: Of course.

Liz: So my kid was in a movie that got nominated for five Academy Awards, and he went to these and was sending me pictures one time. So they have a special place in my heart. But you know what, that’s what DVRs are for, so I’ll be watching it later with another kid.

Liz: Just saying.

Anne: There you go.

Liz: I’m not missing it. So yeah, let’s talk about rates. Talk, talk, talk.

Anne: So Liz, you have a very special perspective, I think, on rates, and so it’s all anybody ever talks about, and I think it’s something that we revisit again and again. And in the Facebook groups, people discuss rates and we’re all about fair rates. You have a very different perspective of rates from the agent’s side. Talk to me a little bit about what you’re seeing for 2020 and beyond, for rates, and what’s important for us to get a handle on in terms of rates in the voiceover industry.

Liz: Like anything, for the voiceover industry to change the rates, it’s like the tail wagging the dog. It’s a very difficult thing. We all work from our home offices. We don’t have a standardized rate structure, except within the union base and things like that, but we all try to get what is a fair rate. And the only way that we’re going to hold producers accountable is that we stick to what seems fair. When I was with the agency, when I owned TAG, we would always set our rates based on conflicts. So for example if someone comes in, they want you to do a Starbucks commercial, and they want to buy it for a year, and they want to air it on the web, you know, you’re looking at anywhere from $850 to $1250 for that usage.

Anne: For the year?

Liz: For the year. And just on the web. Not anywhere else. Just the web.

Anne: Can I back the truck up just a touch, because you’re talking about the web, where I think that prior to establishing rates that, for spots that would be on the web, but about traditional rates? How did that work as the agent and as a negotiator?

Liz: Okay, well so, getting into that, depending on whatever your spot is for, we would base it on conflicts. If you’re going to do a Starbucks commercial and for a year, on a medium, you can’t, personal ethics, go do a community coffee commercial or some other coffee brand commercial for a couple of reasons. One, Starbucks might say, hey, we want you in exclusivity, which means they get the only use of your voice. And then sometimes products like that will throw you a curveball and say listen, we’re not gonna hold you to any exclusivity, you know, and actors go, well that’s a great idea. I’m not exclusive to that brand. I can go to others. But that’s not always the case. Community coffee, if we’re still using this example, might not want to hire you, if they know that you’re the voice of Starbucks. So you always have to think in terms like that. Well what, if it’s a big brand like that, what work am I potentially not getting? And that’s what you have to look at. I mean, at least that’s what I would look at as an agent. What other work could come that will keep my actor from doing it? When you’re doing a small product that nobody knows anything about, and it’s got a low usage, you know, you can have more flexibility in your rate. You don’t have to go so high or so powerful, but when you start talking things like a major box store, a coffee, a gasoline brand, a car brand, things like that, that absolutely does matter because those things get booked all the time. Ford may come through one week. I don’t know, Cadillac – I guess maybe people consider those competition. But anyway, so if your voice is out there, you’re effectively endorsing that product.

Anne: Then my question is, tell me what rate guide are you basing it on, or are you basing it on union rates, or what – how is that determined?

Liz: I typically use the GVAA rate guide.

Anne: Okay.

Liz: Because those guys are out there trying to find what the standard rates are. Like when I was an agent, they would call and ask me and talk to me, and I know they’re calling other agents. And it’s a really good place to use as a baseline. You can’t really compare it to a union rate because sometimes people look at the session fee for the union rate and consider that the rate. And that’s not the case, because union rates pay residuals. That’s the gift that keeps on giving, whereas nonunion, it’s typically that buy. They might do another buy. They might say, okay, we’re going to re-up this in a year, and so in that case, you know, you pick a rate that seems good. I was using $1250 as an example for just the Internet. So the following year, if they want to use you again, as an agent, we would typically tack on 20%. We would get pushback. Matter of fact, this is a scenario where we did get pushback. The person at the ad agency was like, listen, he doesn’t have to record it again. Why do I have to pay him for his usage? We were like, because it’s his voice, and it keeps him from work and it’s also, that’s just what you’re supposed to do. And so we headed the 20% on, and it was like an $800 gig plus 20%, so we were at $960. He was like no, I want to pay $300. We were like, absolutely not. As the negotiation is going, I always try to loop in the actor, because I don’t know where that actor is. That actor might need that money like nobody’s business. We always try to encourage them not to do it, but again, agents work for the actors. And so our goal is to get you the best rate.

Anne: So when you try to bring the talent in, so it’s something that you’re suggesting to the talent. Here’s what the client came back with, and you suggest to them whether or not they take that rate, or ask you to negotiate higher, correct? It’s not them doing the negotiation, in terms of the process of agent negotiation – just for those are not familiar for having an agent negotiate on behalf. The process would be, you would discuss with the client, they would come back with a rate. You would then negotiate the best rate, or what you thought the best rate was for the talent, and then if you weren’t happy with the rate, you didn’t think you could get hired, what would happen?

Liz: At that point, I would reach out to the talent. I mean, we had a project come through one time, Anne, that was a $35,000 project. That’s huge, huge. And the actor did not feel it was fair. And in terms of rate comparison, it wasn’t fair. The bigger issue for that particular one was that they wanted the actor to be on call for eight hours a day, for 30 days. And you know, that’s well and good, but if you’re going to put me on call for 30 days, you’ve also got me not working –

Anne: For 30 days. Yeah, exactly.

Liz: Yeah. Even though you’re paying me $35,000, it’s the continuous work that I might be working on that I would lose. It becomes a very testy area, but yes, if it’s not going as planned, then I always loop in the talent. If it’s going as planned, and I’m getting the standard rate they worked for last year, plus 20%, and I don’t know of any conflicts that have crept up, then I can make the deal for the actor without even blinking because it’s a good deal.

Anne: So let me ask you, in regards to the negotiation with your client, if you’re not familiar with the new client, what typically happens in the negotiation process for you?

Liz: I usually get the rate.

Anne: Okay.

Liz: That’s usually get the rate because you’re dealing with a professional typically on the other side, you know, that has – knows the product. They’re the agent’s rep, they know what their budget is. They’ve gotten smart in the last couple of years, and they’ll negotiate this year’s rate, and if they do a rebuy, what that rebuy rate will be. That’s one of their tactics. So watch for that in your contracts because if they’ve established that they buy you this year for $1000, and if they want to use you, they get to buy you for another year for $1000. That may be well and good, but I would try to avoid those if I can, or I negotiate the second year as $1200 for the 20% increase.

Anne: Got it, got it.

Liz: So that’s one of the things. Anytime I’m negotiating a rate, I always start with the GVAA. So the standard rate for that is $500. And oftentimes they’re like, okay. Or they know the standard rate, but what’s difficult is when they come through, and it’s a low rate, and there is no movement, none. You know, it’s not horribly low, but it’s low enough that you’re like cringing. Then you have to ask yourself, do I want to share this with my talent, or do I not want to share this with my talent? That as an agent is that really fine line that you walk, I mean if it’s just deplorably low. You know, it’s a $200 spot that ought to pay $1000. No thank you. No-brainer, not happening. But if it’s a, if it’s a $800 that should be $1000, now, the voiceover world out on social media will often times lose their cookies over such a thing. I’m over here as an agent for a nonunion gig watching the deterioration of the whole rate structure going listen, it’s close. You know? As an agent, I let the talent make that call. If you’re the talent yourself negotiating these rates, reach around and ask. You know, it’s such a fine line. If you’re the actor, and you’re trying to hold the line for everybody by not taking $200 less on that rate, that’s a tough one to call. I think you have to literally ask yourself, do I need to eat? That sounds bad, but I think you literally have to ask yourself that. Because you’re not trying to be a bad person.

Anne: Sure, sure.

Liz: You’re just trying to work.

Anne: So let me ask you a question. You’re talking about the GVAA rate guide, and I love the GVAA rate guide. It’s fantastic, they’ve done so much work on it. But it’s not been out there that long. So my question to you is, what did you do before the GVAA rate guide? Where was your baseline coming from then to negotiate?

Liz: Well, I had been an on camera agent for many years. And to me it was much the same. Before that, we were all using VoiceBank, and the rates that would come through on VoiceBank were fabulous. They were either fabulous or free. Once in a while, they would come through with a request for something free. And so when VoiceNank went away, that’s when we were all kind of like, oh my gosh, what do we do for rates? And I had GVAA to fall back on.

Anne: And SAG-AFTRA.

Liz: And SAG-AFTRA. All of those things to fall back on, oftentimes we would get rates better than SAG-AFTRA, just saying. You know? SAG-AFTRA is a really good baseline, but you have to be sure and add in the residuals.

Anne: Let me just – again I’m going to go back to like rates 101, just for those listeners who might be new. Let’s talk a little bit about session rate and usage rate.

Liz: So a session rate means that you are sitting in a room, either your own studio or someone else’s studio. Your time is blocked for that hour, half hour, two hours. That’s called your session. You get paid for being in there. You get paid for talking into the mic and recording the stuff. Usage is the rate you get paid on top for where your voice is airing. So if it’s going to be airing just in a certain small region or big region or national or international, all of that comes into play when determining the rate. The pluses and minuses of session rate and usage rate. On the session rate, sessions are typically $500 assumed an hour. Okay? And sometimes we could get an additional $100 because you’re doing the record on your own. You would get an extra $100 because not only are you the voice talent, you’re also playing engineer. So you have the session and then the usage. The good news about that is if for some reason they decide not to use your spot, you still make $500 for your hour. The flipside of that is if they want to rebuy it the following year, they’re not going to pay you all of that because they’re only going to pay you for the usage again.

Anne: Sure, sure.

Liz: Oftentimes those are broken out into like $500 for the session and $750 for usage. So you’re thinking oh, $1250, they’re going to use it again, I’m going to pop 20% on top of that. Well, when it’s broken out like that, you can only add it for the usage on top.

Anne: Got it. So let’s talk usage then. What’s the breakdown of usage?

Liz: Usage is just where it’s airing. So usage can go many different ways. It can be radio, TV, Internet, Internet radio. There’s all sorts of media. And then where it’s airing. So a local spot is typically the town that they’re recording it for. Dallas, Houston, Denton, Sacramento, those are local spots. And then there is regional. And regional can be defined as, like in Texas, region could be the Southwest region of Texas, Houston, Galveston, blah, blah, blah. And then, but regional can also be, there’s seven regions in the world. They could be determining them that way, or there is really four main regions in the United States, if you want to break it that way, North, South, East, West. And they kind of chop them up. The bigger the region, the more money you should get. So you have usage, session is usually a concern.

Anne: Usage – let me just back up for one second. Usage, you were talking about where, location wise. Also there is length, right?

Liz: Yes.

Anne: Okay, so –

Liz: Yes, thank you for that. Usually it starts in 13-week increments.

Anne: Now, what’s the reason for that?

Liz: Quarter. That’s just typically when the buys are. You know, it’s January, February, March, April, May, June, they just do them typically in 13-week buys. That’s old school. I don’t really know that reasoning, and I’m sorry.

Anne: I’m going to kind of just may be classify this. The majority of what you’re talking about here for, in terms of length, is commercial, correct? We’re talking commercial.

Liz: Yes, because if you are the ADR for a movie, right, that’s an in-perpetuity usage.

Anne: Sure.

Liz: And it’s not going to make you rich, but it’s a really good bragging right. You know? If you’re in an animated series, if it’s a union series, then as long as that maybe plays, you make money.

Anne: Right.

Liz: Right? But typically if we’re talking the nonunion world, the buys are either 13 weeks, six months, a year – well even for union, even for union, they break them in those same ways.

Anne: So let me just break in here and say and from a nonunion standpoint, I don’t think that a lot of nonunion talent really think about usage in terms of length, and time period –

Liz: Oh!

Anne: – and it really wasn’t until – and that’s sad, right?

Liz: It hurts, it hurts!

Anne: It does. I know that that hurts. But let’s think of a lot of nonunion work, let’s say narration work, in-house e-learning, that sort of thing.

Liz: Yeah…

Anne: With the advent of the Internet and the possibility of let’s say nonunion stuff happening to appear now on digital sites, what’s kind of good about that, and I’m not saying that – you know, it’s wonderful to have an agent to negotiate on your behalf. But if you don’t have an agent, and you are negotiating something like e-learning or you know corporate narration, really start thinking about usage. I know that it’s something I’ve tacked on to any one of my quotes now in terms of usage because it could potentially be on the web. “This rate is good for a year.” What that does is it starts to spark people who don’t have an agent negotiating on their behalf, how to think like at least a negotiator that will get a fair rate for them. So guys, when you’re negotiating your own stuff, think about usage, think about length of term, and throw that into your quote when that happens. If you say a year, it’s even better than nothing. Right?

Liz: I talked with one of my good friends, another lady that’s in VO and she’s like, no, everything is in perpetuity. That makes my skin, that makes my skin crawl. So listen. There’s some things you should put on every single one of your invoices. These are the things. The project name, the contact name, the product, what it’s for, the usage as in the buy, that’s what I would usually call it is buy, how long are you buying –

Anne: Where and how long.

Liz: Yes. And usage. So all of those things, and put those on there, and put an end date, one year ending, 12/31. I would always bump it about 30 days just because you know, the day I invoice is the day the talent was in the studio, but that commercial might not start airing for a while.

Anne: Right.

Liz: Another thing you’ve got to be careful of is they’ll say, well, it didn’t start airing for three months. If that’s the case, that’s well and good, but you got to tell me.

Anne: As soon as it’s delivered, starts day one. Right? of usage.

Liz: Well no, no. It’s not. It’s when it starts airing.

Anne: Okay, okay.

Liz: Okay? And sometimes there can be a lag.

Anne: What about nonunion things that are not airing, let’s say?

Liz: It just depends. What I really want, and I know this is going to be difficult for a lot of people to do, I don’t want you to think in terms of project as union or nonunion. I really don’t. Yes, there are union projects, and yes, there are nonunion projects, but I don’t want you to think in terms of that at all. I just want you to think in terms of project. Union means that there is other things that are tacked onto it, right, and you’ve got a lot of smart people hoping to make sure that you get paid. But it’s still a project. And no matter who it’s for or how it’s recorded, you should be paid fairly for it, and it should have an end date.

Anne: Yep, agreed.

Liz: I don’t want to start plugging my CastVoices, but that’s one of the things that we’re looking out for you for. I’ll just leave it at that. We can talk about it later, but it’s really and truly, you leave so much money on the table. Here’s the deal. Let’s just say you did get a year buy. Okay? And it’s now 30 days before that year buy, you ought to be popping that person for a release. “Hey, the buy for Starbucks is up at the end of December. I need to either get a release or a rebuy,” and you get that piece of paper, because if they continue to air it after December, they have to pay you.

Anne: Right. And this is where the benefit of having an agent comes in because you can keep an eye out on that project and on that client to make sure that that happens, because I know for a fact, a lot of voiceover talent in a year, if they don’t have it in their CRM or in their, you know, reminder, who is actually checking back?

Liz: Just in terms of rates, just make sure you have an end date and that you go back and follow up for your closure.

Anne: Good advice, good advice. Gosh, we could talk about rates all day, Liz, I’m telling you.

Liz: We could.

Anne: I think it is something that’s probably the biggest mystery in terms of, you know, this industry and voiceover talent when they first get into the voiceover industry, and it becomes like a panic, like a panic button. I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’ve had students that just panic when they get their first job or their first request for quote, and they’re like, oh my God, what should I charge? So this is a really great start into figuring out what it is that you should be charging and how you should go about negotiating your rates and things that you need to look for. I’d like to give a huge shout-out to our sponsor, ipDTL. Gosh, I love them. The fact that we’re connected all over the place, like from – now you’re in Houston. Before, where were you, Liz?

Liz: Mesquite, and before Mesquite, Austin.

Anne: Yeah, oh my gosh. So, all over the place. Thank you, Kevin, from ipDTL for letting us connect and work like BOSSes. You guys too can work like a boss and find out more at Thanks so much, guys. Have a great week and we’ll see you next week.

Liz: Take care, everybody.

Anne: Bye!

>> Join us next week for another edition of VO BOSS with your host, Anne Ganguzza, and take your business to the next level. Sign up for our mailing list at and receive exclusive content, industry revolutionizing tips and strategies, and new ways to rock your business like a BOSS. Redistribution with permission. Coast-to-coast connectivity via ipDTL.



Anne: Speaking of which, wait, before we get back in there, I just want to say big huge shout-out to editor Carl. Carl, you’re amazing. Thank you so much for all that you do. Just we’re talking pristine audio. It’s all due to Carl, and we thank you so much, Carl.

Liz: Bravo.

Anne: And all that really awesome outtake that’s coming –

[both laugh]

Anne: – and to the ends of our episodes, and especially that rap, if you guys haven’t heard, if you’ve not heard the rap that is the chicken that is Liz, you must go back and revisit, go back and revisit.

Liz: [laughs] Oh my God, I’ll not live that down, but that’s okay. Oh my God. Okay, so back to rates. Alright, Carl. Here we go.


Liz: You can hear me swallow, I know.

Anne: That’s fine, I just swallowed. That just sounded bad. This is not – Carl, this is not an outtake.

Liz: [laughs] Oh Carl, oh yes it is. You send that [beep] to me. Do you hear me, Carl? I want to have some fun with that outtake by Anne, okay?

[becomes funky music with echoes]

Anne: I just swallowed.

>> Yes.

Anne: I just swallowed.

Liz: I’m going to have some fun with that outtake by Anne, okay?

Anne: I just swallowed.

>> Oh yes.

Anne: I just swallowed. Carl, this is not an outtake.

>> Oh yes.

[both laugh]

The Carl: [evil laugh] Silly Anne, you think that you can decide what is and is not an outtake? But I, I am the Carl and I alone shall decide. [maniacal laughter]