So You Want to do VO? - Part 7: "Dollar a Holler" Freelancing

This is part 7 of my multi-part post on how to get started in the Voiceover business.

If you've been following my suggestions, by now you've hopefully gained some experience with some of the voice acting communities and have either paid for it, or produced your own demo that shows off your vocal ability in a professional manner. Now we're finally at a point where you can take all of the previous information and put it to good use. Now you can start making some money.

Sort of.

Freelancing at the "Dollar-a-Holler" sites

There are a number of freelance websites out there where that voice artists can use to find work.

Some of the more prominent ones:

Each site runs a little differently, but for the most part they all function the same way:

A typical day at Freelancer.com

  • The client, looking for a voice artist, posts a job listing, stating how much they're willing to pay (either hourly or a flat rate) and the details of the job. They place the funds for this job into an escrow account (or not, depending on the terms they decide) and the money gets released to the voice artist when the finished file is uploaded and approved by the client. 
  • Prospective voice talent then bid on the job, listing how much (or how little) they're willing to work for and how long it will take to complete the job. 
  • The client will pick the talent based usually on their generic audition (their demo), though some clients ask for a custom audition using a sample of an attached script. 
  • When the job is awarded, the voice talent has a certain amount of time to record and send the finished audio back to the client. 
  • If the client is happy with the recording, they release the funds, which then get deposited into your freelance web account, minus a fee charged by the website, which varies site to site (usually 10 - 18%, but some as high as 50%). The funds can then be withdrawn to your regular bank account via PayPal, wire transfer, etc.
Freelancing with these websites is a great way to gain experience, hone your recording and voiceover techniques and maybe earn some money in the process. However, there are a two major things to be aware of:
  1. The pay is crap.
  2. There's a lot of people willing to work for slave wages.

The first problem is a sign of the times. The clients that frequent the freelancing sites tend to expect a lot for very little payment. $30 for 3-5 minutes of finished audio is common. (which is why I use the nickname, "Dollar-a-holler" when describing these sites.)

However if you are just starting out, this seems like a great deal. Which leads to the second problem.

For every job that says the pay is between $20 - $30, there will be 10 people who are willing to get the job for $20 or less. There is a constant stream of new talent that are willing to work way below what they're worth, just for the sake of landing the job and adding it to their resume. Some people just want the money and are willing to do anything to get it, including working for next to free.


My story:
I once bid on a job for an audio tour of foreign monuments. This would be a recording that tourists could listen to while they walk around visiting the various locations. I bid low, because I wanted the work and I figured low pay is better than NO pay.
I won the job, but my excitement quickly faded when I discovered that, because I didn't read over the entire script before bidding, I failed to notice that it was 20 PAGES  worth of dialog: Single spaced, filled with foreign pronunciations and written by someone to whom English was definitely a second - or perhaps third - language. After contacting the client about the difficulty with most of the words, they were very accommodating and ended up sending me a voice sample of one of their co-workers saying the words in their native language so I could get the pronunciation correct.  
From start to finish, this project ended up being 24 hours worth of work. And I don't mean that it took a day - I mean the time it took to record, edit and send the finished audio files took 24 working hours. Based on my original bid, I ended up working just above minimum wage.
I learned a valuable lesson on this project: don't be in such a hurry to land the job that you sacrifice your standards, or your sanity to do it. Your time is worth something; Let someone else work for peanuts. 

One tactic that some clients will use is to offer the job in a foreign currency. "A 30 second promo for $200? That sounds good!" but then you realize that its 200 Hong Kong Dollars, which at the time I wrote this post was $25 US. When bidding on the project, always pay attention to the currency being used.

I don't want to say that this is a shady practice that all clients are trying to pull, but it does seem fishy with some jobs.

Watermark your work. A watermark is something that you embed into the recording to prevent someone from using the audio without paying you. A simple 1kHz beep slipped in every 10 seconds is more than enough. In your proposal for a potential job, you should mention that you will send a watermarked version of the audio requested for the client to evaluate. If the client is happy, instruct them to release the funds agreed to and you will immediately send them a clean version (without the watermark). I have never had a client use my audio without paying, but the potential for some shady businesses to do that is there, so I watermark everything on these sites. Once you've worked with a client a couple of times, you can ditch the watermark if they've shown themselves to be trustworthy, but it's always a good idea to protect your work when you first start working with a client.

TIP: Dont be afraid to say no.
The majority of the clients on these sites are looking for the absolute lowest possible cost they can get away with. An audiobook for $25? A 2 minute promotional video for $10? No thanks. Pass. As I wrote in a previous post, "Your time and skills have value. Bid accordingly."

Being a freelancer doesn't mean you work for free.  

If you're just starting out in voiceover, these freelance sites are a good way to hone your skills. It gives you some basic client interaction experience and helps you refine your tone, range and style. However, you're certainly not going to get rich working this route, This is a way to gain some experience that will be helpful to you as you move on with your career.

Graduate and move on
Any website that makes the voiceover artists bid against each other, means that everyone loses in the long run. Its a destructive environment that breeds contempt for your peers. Which is absolutely NOT how this industry actually functions. In the real world of voiceover, your peers are your friends. Working together makes a hell of a lot more sense for the industry (and out bottom lines) than this cheap, cutthroat style haggling that takes place in the seedy freelancing marketplaces.

You don't want to spend too much time trying to make money in these places. They are a stepping stone to bigger and better work. Think of this as practice. Once you've done a few jobs and you're comfortable with your audio chain and your workflow, it's time to move your career on to the next level.

In the next installment of this series, we'll carefully wade out of the murky waters of the Dollar-a-holler kiddie pool and cannonball into the stormy "pay-to-play" ocean.

Stay tuned.


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
About Rob Marley - 
A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com