What are you worth?

It’s an interesting question and one that has a multitude of answers dependant upon the context in which the question was asked but I’m specifically thinking about your worth as a Voice actor and in a wider sense all of our worth as a Voiceover industry…

I had an interesting experience recently when I got involved with a potential job via Twitter, the tweet was looking for male voice actors for a TV programme to be broadcast on a major TV network.

“Great” I thought and slung my name into the hat, unfortunately that was where the excitement ended when I got the e-mail through with the details. On initial inspection all seemed interesting, the project sounded cool, the script had potential for some great fun and the broadcast platform was second to none so what was the problem?

It was this “We don’t have a budget for voiceover, but we can offer great exposure”, my heart sank and into the professional dilemma I went. I won’t mention the production company or broadcaster involved but suffice it to say we’re talking major coverage!

Now some of you may not think this deserves to be a dilemma, “It’s XYZ broadcaster, of course do it” and that was in there amongst my initial thoughts, especially as someone relatively “new” to the industry but something I read a long time ago stuck in my mind “Always remember what you are worth”. As an industry, Voiceover has changed enormously over the last 5 years with a massive influx of new talent and an equal explosion of opportunity. My twitter feed is full of “Voiceover Masterclass for $20”, “How to make easy money from home doing VO” and yet that’s not me or most of my colleagues. I’ve spent significant sums investing in kit, going to courses, reading books, training with coaches and hours upon hours perfecting reads, voices and acting so I circle back to “What am I worth?”

Ultimately the conclusion I came to was that I am worth being paid for my craft and actually even more so for such a large broadcaster. To think that a show that was in it’s 4th Season and being broadcast on such a large platform has “no budget for voiceover” is to be quite frank insulting, so ultimately I turned it down, sure it was a difficult choice but my gut says it was the right one and I hold my head up high.

So why to blog about it, well two main reasons; one because the chances are as a VO you’ll come across a scenario like this and second because it’s a very interesting issue that pertains specifically to the “creative” industries.

A quick search on the Internet and you’ll find painters, illustrator’s, photographers, actors all complaining of similar stories of being asked to do work for free in return for (never guaranteed) exposure. At this point it’s worth clarifying however that I will do free work, in fact my very first gig was free and my second for a tiny radio station paid £20. What’s important is what that work is! A charity appeal, sure, a student video, absolutely, a prime time TV programme broadcast nationally…… and the reason for that is simple, if we don’t defend our worth we’re not worth anything.

This appears to only be something that is prevalent in creative industries, perhaps it’s because we all tend to be so passionate it’s easier to take advantage of our desires to please. Think about it, you’d never say to your plumber “I can’t pay you to install that toilet but I’ll tell all my friends about it” so why should we accept that attitude?

As VO is a close knit community I know that other’s received the same e-mail reply that I did almost word for word (including the compliments…). I know that ultimately the production company will probably find another VO to do it for free and that’s the problem, as a whole we need to stand up and shout “We know what we are worth!”

No Comments

  1. Steve O'Neill on September 5, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    Interesting read Jay and you made a tough choice I think, but credit to you. Reminds me of the post shared by Rachel Naylor by James Clear recently about Picasso – “It took me 30 years of work to do that 30 second drawing for you”.
    Our worth is in what we’ve worked on to get to the level we are at – whatever that level, along with the effort we put in behind the scenes to deliver that 10/20/30 second piece. So I think you made the right choice – respect amigo!

  2. Gary Terzza on September 5, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    Well refused Jay. I’ve come across this before and the idea that you would gain exposure is a little far fetched ….. “I am the voice of blah blah programme”
    “Ah yes I know, that’s the one that doesn’t pay and they take on anyone”.
    So much for kudos.
    It’s far better to do a nice obscure corporate and earn a tidy sum in the process.
    You ARE worth much more than these derisory offers.

  3. David Sumeray on October 5, 2014 at 5:21 am

    A great lesson in integrity Jay! Well done! They would be lucky to have someone with your talent and it is insulting to get away without paying you. You would have been an important aspect of their public face! As a newbie I would have struggled with that decision but I hope would have come to the same decision. As you point out, apart from maintaining one’s own self-esteem and integrity you are standing up for the rights of the VO industry….a vital component of the entertainment industry and much else besides.

  4. Richard Heathcote on October 5, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Great post Jay.
    I too had the exact same email after I got in touch with them via Twitter, the same excitement in wanting to use me, how my voice fitted the variety and style of this piece perfectly. Yada yada…
    Then as you say, you get to the ‘no budget’ paragraph, and I switch off immediately. It’s ridiculous…..How any programme in it’s 4th series can have no budget for VO is beyond me.
    Certainly not an ‘opportunity’ I’ll be taking up – will be emailing them back shortly expressing my views, albeit in a more polite way.
    As VOs, we really do have to stick to our guns on these sorts of situations – the more people give away for free, it becomes the norm. And that’s certainly not something I ever want to see happening. I don’t *quite* know what else in life I’d do, otherwise!

  5. Debby Barnes on October 5, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    “…if we don’t defend our worth we’re not worth anything.” JB…this was and always will be true and quotable. This blog will no doubt resonate with the majority of our community! 🙂

  6. Kevy Parr on March 5, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    Well said Jay. Like yourself and Richard Heathcote, I received the same email for this. Emailed them politely refusing their offer.

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