Gobs on Sticks

Thoughts mostly (but not always) about the voice-over business, from London Voiceover Artist, Mike Cooper

  • About the author

    My name is Mike Cooper. I'm a full time Voiceover Artist living and working in London, and this is my blog. Find out more about me on my main website (there's a link further down this column), or if you'd like to hear some of my work, check out the files below.
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So, if you won’t work for $25, how about for nothing?

Posted by MikeCooper on June 12, 2009

A little while ago I blogged about whether the $25 rates that keep cropping up online for jobs were acceptable remuneration for the services of a professional Voiceover Artist. Mercifully, the deluge of comments I received, both here and via LinkedIn, left me in no doubt that, like me, you believe this kind of fee is way, way too low.

So what happens when someone asks you to work for nothing?

A couple of weeks ago I received an email via my website:

“Your voice is perfect for a project I am doing at college…

The script that I have has a mocking, sarcastic tone… You are great!

I am a student so I would not be able to pay you. But it would be great if you could read a script for me, it wouldn’t take too long. It’s 5 minutes long.”

I think the first part’s what’s generally known as a “back-handed compliment”, and I decided to take it as such (rather than tell my correspondent in my most mocking, sarcastic tone to stick the offer where the sun doesn’t shine). Personally, whenever someone says “You’re great!” I think it’s best to take it graciously and not ask too many questions. Of course, my heart sank a fraction when I realised there was no money involved, but hey, I’m a businessman, after all!

I pondered the point with my good friend and guru, Trish Bertram. As well as being a phenomenal voice talent, she’s someone who often has a wise word to say on such things. Sure enough, she made two very valid points. The first is a sound business point: namely that the people making videos and having the awareness to request professional voice tracks for college projects today, are likely the rising star producers of tomorrow. Who knows when they may be in a position to pay you back, and probably with interest?

The second point is a bit more abstract, and comes down to “karma”. It’s the idea that a good deed done “pays one forward”, and that at some point the universe is likely to reward you in kind. Of course, you’re not supposed to expect for this to happen – that goes against the principle – but it’s a nice way to live your life, isn’t it? The thought that you go through your own life with an attitude of giving to others, without prejudice, and – just now and then – there might just be a nice surprise when you least expect it.

By way of illustrating, Trish reminded me of two people she’d taken under her wing in years gone by. One was a “runner”, who went on from the lowest job on the studio floor to produce some very big Light Entertainment shows, got her in to be the Voice of God (if God’s a woman then Trish is definitely the voice who should play her) and who still offers her a supply of work even today.

But the other was a real case of karma at work. Some years ago, at a point when she was going through difficult times in her own life, Trish was approached by someone who was keen to become a continuity announcer. She gave her time and effort without any question of reward or what the guy could do in return, and thought no more of it. A few months later it turned out that the gentleman in question worked for a major airline, and he offered to fly her – business class, no less – to Australia. Which, coincidentally, was just where she’d been wanting to go. Cynics, of course, snidely suggested that she’d been planning it all along, but I know for a fact that she was completely surprised and taken aback. Sometimes the universe really does provide. And maybe, as a “universal thank you” for his own good deed, he got what he wanted too: he went on to become a continuity announcer, and fulfilled a dream he’d held for twenty years.

Of course, I did the free voiceover track, and no, this isn’t an invitation to a deluge of similar requests for either myself or Trish – but next time you’re asked to work for nothing, it might be worth keeping what I’ve said in mind…

If you’ve got any stories to share, I’d love to hear them. Your comments are very welcome, as ever!


One Response to “So, if you won’t work for $25, how about for nothing?”

  1. Gary Hills said

    Mike, not exactly the same but similar in concept. Among the many jobs I do in performing arts is to act as a professional/creative coach to artists, arts managers and cultural leaders. It can be very well-paid but I do offer if for less to emerging artists and start-up companies. One of the things I soon realised though, was that a lot of people who could really benefit from coaching can’t afford it – especially those who are out of work, recovering from illness, restarting their life after a relationship breakdown etc. So I sometimes offer it for free; it’s only an hour of my time and allws me to keep my skills sharp. I see it as a way for me to give something back and help others get back on track

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