I’ll give you free Voiceover work!

With a side of Shame and a medium Guiltshake



The Downside of the Upside

Photo by Tanja Bruckner, 2017.

Free Work.  I like to do it as much as I like having my eye poked out with a searing hot firebrand.  It's not that I'm uncharitable or a hardened cynic, don't care or don't have time, it's just that I don't want to.

Especially in the case of pickups, when it’s been a really long time since I recorded the original content, I’ve received payment, and we’ve both gone on our merry way since then.  When the client comes back and asks for just a few teency weency pickups for free, I truly get a pain I can’t locate.

More to the point, it’s particularly irritating when any client also happens to throw in “We have very little budget for this” which are of course the most favorite words any contractor can ever hear.  My favorite clients are the ones that can’t pay me anything at all - but I’m sure you feel the same.  They humbly request my holiest charity mindset.  Little do they know that I’ve flipped that switch to “off” and ripped out the wall cabling long ago.

With a cringe and a specially perfected eye-roll, the first response that I’m inclined to provide is, “Why yes, I’d be more than happy to have you take advantage of me – thanks!”  Their exuberant reply is sure to include:

  • “Great! We knew you’d see reason”
  • “Here’s the script. There might be a few changes” which means the same thing as “Here’s the script.  There will be an incredible amount of burdensome changes that will require you to record and then re-record and then re-re-re-re-record everything all over again.  Thank you once again for your holiest charity mindset.”
  • “You are doing the right thing” which means the same thing as “You will never escape my clutches and I have hereunto obtained you as my servant for all eternity. Please drive this awl through your earlobe.”

Next, I receive their copy, which is of course riddled with typos and pronunciations of names or nouns that could be pronounced no less than exactly thirty-six different ways.  And, of course, there’s the end tags that they want to be able to cover multiple markets, and would like me to record for free.  What’s that, Josh?  Those cost extra?  You mean you want to receive revenue for the professional work that you do?  Bwwaaah-hahahahaha-hahahaha!!

I’ve written about this before in my previous world-changing blog entitled “Thank goodness I only do voiceovers for exposure.”  Did you read this blog?  It almost won a Pulitzer Prize, saved millions from starvation, brought about a payment revolution for freelancers everywhere, and made Jesus want to return early because finally people got it.  Seriously: read it.  I’ll wait.


So how do I make it easier for myself?

Relax /2


The point in all this is that clients who undervalue you, or approach you with a predetermined limited budget based on their own valuation of your services, are not the types of clients you want, and you would be better served to pour hot molten lava over their telephones and weld plate steel over their mouths in order to prevent such requests from coming your way again.  A rather violent and police-inviting solution?  Perhaps.  But at least you won’t have to roll your eyes anymore.

In his marvelous and required-reading book “Making Money in your PJ’s”, Paul Strikwerda is quoted as saying that there are clients that “expect a gourmet meal at a fast food price and at drive-through speed.”  Such clients irritate me. I highly recommend you purchase Paul’s book.  Right after you purchase mine of course.

I recently had to deal with such a client who has, for each of the three times they’ve approached me, explained in detail how they don’t have much of a budget for this, times are tough, their children were just abducted by ravens, the mob found them yet again, and they are currently calling me with their voiceover requests while falling down an endless mine shaft.  (I had wondered what that sound of rushing wind was.)  In any event, their pathetic pleas did not reach my heart, which has now been reinforced with cement and impenetrable guilt-proof ray-shielding.  My response was “I do have my minimum session fee, and good luck with your mine shaft.”

In the end, they paid my minimum session fee, and I think there was a trampoline at the bottom of the mine shaft, so it turned out well for both of us.

But seriously - what can we do to handle those pick-ups and make it worth our while?  Here’s how I do it, and this is the irrefutable way, so prepare to be world-rocked:

  • Make sure to save the original files and settings from the first recordings
  • Have a contract in place that specifies that if the word count is under a certain percentage (say, 1%?) of the original script, it’s free. If it’s over 50%, then it’s 50% of the original script charge.  If it’s over 75%, then I change my legal name to Rumpelstiltskin and your child is mine.  I can promise you that I don’t get Imposter Syndrome, and your child shall be mine.  *Insert maniacal laugh trailing off into an unguessable distance here*

And those clients who want you to work out of the kindness of your heart?  Prepare to be world-rocked again:

  • Explain to them that your voice is like a pilot of an airplane. That your voice is in fact the pilot who takes their message somewhere.  That ultimately, they are entrusting their very message to you, and your services are immeasurably valuable in order to reach their target audience.  It’s your voice that is representing their brand, and you’ve been doing this for years, so you have earned the right to charge professional fees.  At some point in your explanation, discover that they have hung up.
  • When the client decides to brandish their “I can just go to Fiverr, but we’d rather use you” sword, carefully articulate that the client can indeed go to Fiverr, which is essentially the same place as Wal-Mart, where you find bargain basement pricing, unprofessional hobbyists, and nut-jobs who wear fish-net kilts and say things like “Does this mask make me look fat?” I was just in Wal-Mart recently, and I am not kidding: Someone actually said this.
  • For that one wonderful client who springs the non-profit argument, that they don’t in fact have a budget for these sorts of things and that they are currently being eaten by giant salamanders so can I please just provide free voiceover services, get ready. Say the following, in this exact order: “Sir, A rough estimate of annual nonprofit sector marketing spending puts it at $6 billion.  You aren’t fooling anyone.  Nonprofits are spending an average of 4 cents on digital advertising for every $1 raised online last year and almost 70 percent of those advertising budgets were devoted to lead generation and new donor acquisition.  So, good sir, I DO think you have a budget for these sorts of things, and I resent the fact that you are overinflating this “help a good cause” approach and in so doing attempting to get me to lower my rates so that you can keep your four cents.  Good day to you, you cotton-headed ninny muggins!  Get ‘em, salamander, get ‘em!”  Please note however that calling clients names generally ensures that you will not receive a voiceover job from them.

In the end, there will always be those people out there who want something of high value for free.  Rather than be taken advantage of myself, I just encourage them to become a burglar.



NOTE: This blog is purely for commentary / educational purposes.  I make no money from these blogs; though I do not refuse large cash gifts if it means I can pretend I'm a church.


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Joshua Alexander
Seattle Voice Actor & Voiceover Talent for hire

23 thoughts on “I’ll give you free Voiceover work!”

  1. Good one, Josh. It’s always uncomfortable when someone thinks nothing of asking you to work for free. I do choose to do a couple of pro bono jobs a year, and I choose carefully. But, I think everyone does that. Charity is a good thing … being taken advantage of is another story!


  2. Loved it! Especially knowing some stats on charity marketing expenditure!

    On a more serious note, I feel like this one hits home in a few ways. Thanx for putting a humorous twist on it, like always!


  3. Valuable advice here. Some U2 lyrics come to mind:

    “And you give
    And you give
    And you give yourself away”

    Value your voice. You craft. Your talent. That certainly is your JOB.

    I think the underlying idea is that “the arts” are still undervalued as a career. And if we don’t defend that work in a professional way “good luck with that mime shaft,” then we reinforce the belief that we can in fact be taken advantage of.

    Thanks for the reminders not to give ourselves away.

  4. This really hits the spot, Josh, and highlights why it’s so important to have your revision/pickup terms spelled out in your quote and agreed before starting a job!

    1. Thanks Brian! Yep – having those contracts in place is key! And always, always make sure that your contract includes clauses that say “Whithersoever”, “hereunto”, “ergo”, “vis a vis”, and “concordantly” so as to cause maximum confusion!

    2. This is so spot on. I had a great gig come my way and after doing a few revisions for free, they came back a month later and wanted more. I am always happy to do what it takes So that my clients are delighted with my work, but I had to ask for the session fees. They didn’t object but surely they would’ve let me do them for free. When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself!

  5. You crack me up Josh. We call my nephew Joshy also but he is not nearly as funny as you. To your point Charity occasionally can make me feel good–until someone takes advantage and that’s when I politely let someone know I am not a doormat… I am the well constructed, sturdy Bridge from your expertly crafted message to your customer and damn that has value!

    1. Well Joshy-Sloshy-Osh-Kosh-B’Goshy is a great one! I might suggest that you try that one. I’ve found that clients would rather just pay me and get it over with rather than try to pronounce such a name.

  6. “Hey, we’re a non-profit, you’ll do this for free, right, to help us out?”

    “Sorry Karen, I’m a business person, do you think I don’t know the difference between Profit and Revenue? Hand over the cash, lady.”

  7. Hey Josh! Exactly! I’ll lower my fee for a non-profit sometimes IF I want to and the organization is one I believe in, but I have never worked for free and never will. Low wages are a death trap too, almost worse than working for free. Thanks for constantly reminding us all of the real worth of VO!

  8. A recent audition request came through from a large agency, the agency made a big deal about this being a “non-profit” and the agency was waiving their fees and asked us to agree to the same. Upon reading the sides and copy, same story as above, multi-millions spent annually on advertising (digital, print, fund raising). The kicker, a job posting for a deputy-executive-assistant to the assistant V-P of whatever posted with an annual salary of $125K!!! I emailed this info to the agency with my displeasure…..and I’m still auditioning for them 4 months later. Some non-profits have value in their altruism, others (and many) waive the “poor them” flag and expect us to join the march, all while paying huge salaries to their executives. To some this may sound heartless and un-Christian but nowhere in the Bible does it say “be a chump”, it does say to be discerning. OK….time to get off the soap box, I’ve got some guy from the *&#^$* Assn. calling me for a quote.

    1. Haha I KNOW that association! Hang in there, Lee. We all feel your non-profit pain. Hope you got the deputy executive assistant job! We all know there’s good causes to be championed at all times, and there are great trains to jump on board in terms of charity…but when you see a post for a job with the same agency paying that much for that kind of position, eek. Hold your head high and know that we’re laughing with you!

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