When hearing the phrase “voice acting,” many automatically gravitate toward the entertainment industry and animated characters for cartoons and Disney movies.
While that is a monumental market for many professional voice actors, voice-over work offers many other career paths for voice talent.
Other paths include video game voice actors, radio artists, voice-over documentary workers, audiobook narrators, etc.
With so many different types of jobs available, it is challenging to say the exact amount voice actors make because it depends on so many factors.
However, there are some guidelines you can use to figure out the average salary for a voice-over job, which I’ll explain here.
First, we need to differentiate between Union Actors and Non-Union Actors.
Tip: new voice actors and non-union actors can still benefit from knowing how much voice actors who are members of SAG make and can use this as a guideline when negotiating contracts.
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Voice Actor Salary for Union Actors
With SAG-AFTRA, there is a guaranteed hourly rate that you will be paid for lending your vocal cords, which even applies to entry-level voice actors.
The different minimum rates for voice actor jobs depend on the type of work, but here are a few examples of industry rates for voice actors who join:
- For television animation, any SAG-AFTRA actor with a segment over 10 minutes is paid a minimum of $1,082.
- For vocal Netflix dubbing (for example, when a Japanese anime needs an English voiceover), the requirement is at least $87/hour.
- For TV commercial voiceovers, the rate is $1,030 per announcement and $257.50 per tag, which would be in eight hours.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (AFTRA) were unions started in the 1930s to protect artists like you from poor working conditions.
The two joined forces and have continued to expand to this day.
Additional Benefits for voice actors to join SAG-AFTRA
Besides the guaranteed union rates, there are other benefits to joining SAG-AFTRA.
If you become a SAG actor, you will also make connections with voiceover work professionals that you would not have had the chance to associate with before joining the union, which is a huge leg up in your voice-acting career.
If you are part of the union, you will have to work only on union projects unless the producer of the non-union work agrees to hire you under a union contract to ensure that they meet industry standards, even with lower pay rates.
While this may seem like it limits your job opportunities, more doors will be open for you, and you will have an easier time booking popular shows, video games, and other well-known, higher-paying jobs.
There are also contracts to cover yourself for low-budget or student films and opportunities to make decisions for the union (if all of your union dues are caught up).
The union will also work to protect you from poor working conditions.
Please note: actors who agencies represent are not SAG members automatically and need to meet certain qualifications to be eligible.
If an agency hires you, you will need to work on a few SAG projects to be hired, but you will be working with a SAG-AFTRA franchised agency, which opens the door to many union projects.
The Costs of Joining SAG-AFTRA
SAG-AFTRA is beneficial for you and your career in many ways. Because of that, there are union dues that you have to pay to be a part of/stay a part of it.
Let’s start with the initiation fee to join the SAG-AFTRA Association since that is step one in your payment process. You will make a $3,000 payment to join the union.
After that initial fee, there will be an annual cost of $213.32 to remain a part of it.
Additionally, any money you earn from SAG acting roles (up to half a million dollars) will have 1.575% taken out to be given to SAG.
Altogether, they are getting a pretty solid chunk of change.
However, remember that there are benefits to being in the union, such as a health plan, a pension plan, and the AFTRA retirement plan.
Voice Actor Salaries for Non-Union Actors
If you are not a SAG-AFTRA voice actor now, there are still multiple opportunities to succeed, even without the big-name franchises seeking you out.
And without the SAG-AFTRA dues, you will have no big cost upfront, saving you a lot of money at the start.
If an agency represents you, a percentage is taken from the paycheck earned from a voice-acting gig booked through said agency.
If you don’t know how to get an agent, I recommend you read this guide.
For example, if you work with an agent in Chicago and the requirement is that they get 20% of your paycheck, and you make $200 for a non-union voice acting project, they will receive $40, and you will get $160.
Overall, even if you are concerned about the agency taking part of your money, it is worth working with them because they will only take a small percentage, can help negotiate higher rates, and will receive auditions.
With non-union projects, there is no exact pay scale (and some projects are unpaid if they are student films). You could work a few hours in recording sessions and earn $250 or work the same time and receive $400.
Benefits of Not Being with a Union: Freedom of Choice
If you are non-union and don’t like the rates that someone offers you for a part, you are not obligated to take it.
If you are a union actor, you can also decide what you want to work on and what you don’t. However, you are more limited to projects.
Finding jobs as a freelance voice-over artist
Some freelance sites hire you for projects, but the pay is lower than anything with an agency, so keep your opportunities open.
Here’s an in-depth article on how to find voice-acting casting calls.
For example, on the website Upwork, there are voice acting roles ranging from about $5 to close to $200 (depending on how much work is needed from you/if the project is short or long-term).
However, these jobs do not require the same level of experience that some potential clients may call for.
By comparison, an hour of your time with an agency gig will be closer to at least $100, while the independent sites can only pay you $5 since there is no third party or contractual obligation.
You can also apply to work for services like Audible, where you would be an audiobook narrator.
Audible pays a minimum of $50/completed hour of work, which will add up if you do it often.
Backstage and IMDB Pro
Applying for sites such as Backstage or IMDb Pro may also be beneficial for you to find voice work within your geographic location, boost online platforms with your voice acting experience, and help you gain traction.
However, even though these sites are cheaper than the cost of SAG-AFTRA, there are additional costs to account for from the subscription fees.
IMDb Pro and Backstage are both $149.99/year but may offer promotional sales.
Subscribing to at least one of these is a good idea to boost your visibility and expertise, but they are not required, and I do not suggest it if it’s not in your budget.
Should you become a Union Member, and when?
While working as a non-union actor is less expensive, there are fewer roles and chances for you to succeed without the right connections and leg-ups you would get from becoming part of the union.
Plus, you will consistently receive higher pay rates when part of SAG-AFTRA and will have more chances to work on reputable TV shows, video games, and more.
That being said, only become part of the union when you can:
- Afford it – because of the dues and financial demands, you don’t want to drown in debt, especially when trying to start making a living in the voice acting industry.
- Be confident in your abilities – if you are unsure you want to go down this career path or don’t have all the equipment you need to succeed (like a demo reel or an agency to back you up), wait until you are ready.
Several factors affect your success, including knowing what is best for you and your successful career.
There are many ways to market yourself (fx on social media, 3rd-party sites, and your website) with or without a union behind you.
Non-union voice actors can still be wildly successful or start non-union and apply for the union later.
Voice-over actors have many income possibilities, ranging from radio spot work to video game character voices, television advertising, and the specialized domain of anime dubbing.
And with a decent microphone, you can even work from home with clients worldwide.
How much money voice actors and voiceover artists make differ, influenced by the experience level, public recognition, and project type.
You can use the SAG AFTRA guaranteed hourly rates as guidelines – even if you’re non-union.
As you accumulate experience and broaden your work, your earning potential increases, leading to higher-paying roles and assignments. This is also when working with an agent becomes beneficial.
Whether you are union or non-union at the moment, there is a lot of hope for you and your career! Good luck!