Voice over usage fees can be a confusing subject, so we thought it might be helpful to explain these in a bit more detail. As well as the initial fee payable to a voice artist for the recording of a voice-over (often referred to as the basic session fee or BSF), there may also be ongoing usage fees to be paid to the artist.
What are usage fees?
Usage fees (sometimes also known as buy-out fees) are additional fees payable to the voice artist for the ongoing use of their voice recording. In effect they are a licensing agreement made between the client and voice artist.
If you have commissioned a voice recording for use solely within your own organisation, for example a staff training film, then usage fees may not apply. Whereas if a recording is commissioned for use in the public domain, there will usually be usage fees payable to the artist.
The public domain includes all instances where the voice recording is accessible by the public in some way. Examples include TV shows, films, commercials, radio broadcasts, public websites and in-flight presentations. Usage fees are usually also payable for recordings used in video games, in-store broadcasts, exhibitions, events and museum audio tours.
How much are usage fees?
Every union has its own guidelines for setting usage fees, but as rule of thumb you should assign 100% of the basic session fee to usage fees when setting your budget. Within a particular union, usage fees are standardised. As well as the particular union that the voice artist is a member of, usage fees also vary depending on how the recording is to be used.
Usage fees vary so much and can be substantial, so it is essential to get an accurate cost before you order any voice-over work. In order to do this you will need to provide the answers to the following questions to the artist or agent:
– What is the voice-over for? That is, will it be used in an in-flight presentation, an event or exhibition, on a website or in a TV commercial?
– What is the subject of the piece? Is it educational, about a service or selling a product?
– Where will the recording be aired? This means both the medium used to air the recording and the territories in which it will be aired. For example, the medium could be one or more radio or TV channels, a website, one store or a chain of stores, or a one off event. The range of distribution of the recording could be a single shop or event, a region, nationwide, European or global.
Once you have collected all of this information you will be able to get an accurate figure for usage fees. Let’s take a look at some more specific examples:
Usage fees for voice recordings used in TV adverts vary with the expected ratings of the commercial. An ad shown on a niche, satellite channel during the day will require a lower usage fee than one broadcast during a peak time show on terrestrial channels.
Usage fees for radio ads are calculated from the number of scripts involved and the number of radio stations the commercial will feature on. Usually they are calculated for a period of three months. Usage fees for small radio stations can be so small as to be negligible and are often waived altogether. Fees for large national stations can be substantial. There are equity minimum standards for radio usage fees which must be adhered to.
Online usage fees
Online fees are entirely negotiable and vary with the size of the target audience, the type of voice-over in question (instructional or promotional for example) and the length of time for which the voice-over will be used.
Setting an advertising budget
When setting your budget for advertising, it is vital to take usage fees into account. Providing agencies and artists with as much information as possible about the use of the voice-over will allow them to provide you with an accurate picture of the true cost of the commercial.