THE CRAZY WORLD OF AUDIOBOOKS
There are tremendous opportunities available in audiobook recordings for new and established voice talents. We refer to this as “long form” recording. It’s much more involved than your shorter projects like commercials, introductions, informational videos, or even most educational narrations because they’re so long. Most novellas are at least 20,000 words and can rise up to 80,000 words. It’s not uncommon to record unabridged audiobooks with over 150,000 words.
So how does this translate into what a voice actor can charge?
Depending on the character, mood, or scene, on average, people can speak about 120-150 words a minute at a moderate pace. Older, methodical characters will be slower, while youthful and energetic characters will be faster. Using the average of about 135 words per minute, multiplied by 60 minutes in an hour, and you’ve got about 8,100 spoken words an hour.
So, if a narrator’s audiobook rate is $250 per finished hour (PFH), that means they will record themselves reading 8,100 words or so of text, edit what shouldn’t be there, and send you one hour of pristine, perfect, ACX-ready audio.
Here’s how that negotiation typically goes:
CLIENT: You want WHAT to narrate my audiobook? $250 per finished hour? What are you smoking?
VOICE TALENT: It takes up to six and half hours to complete one hour of finished audio. Honestly, no matter how much experience you have, it’s a lot of work.
CLIENT: Forget about it! I’ll do it myself.
(Two months later)
CLIENT: OK, you were right. I recorded about an hour and it took me two weeks to record and edit it. I want you to do it for me.
VOICE TALENT: Excellent. I’m all booked up right now, but I can probably squeeze you in next year for $600 per finished hour.
Personally, as a seasoned audiobook voice actor, editor, and producer, I have found that it generally takes somewhere between 4 to 6.5 hours to complete one hour of an Audiobook. If you’re the voice talent only, you’ll find that with error corrections and re-dos, it collectively takes about two hours to narrate what will become one finished hour.
If it’s a directed session that involves several characters, it could be even longer.
Then, the editor follows. Obviously, your editor will have to listen to everything you recorded, which could be as long as two hours per hour of finished audio. Errors are deleted and corrections are pasted in the right places. Long pauses are removed. Loud breaths, mouth clicks, pops, and other strange noises are removed. Noise reduction is applied, then normalization, then equalization. On average, it takes the editor roughly three hours to edit each finished hour of recording. Now, we’re up to five hours per finished hour of recorded audio.
Adding music and sound effects? Add another hour or so to research, source, license, mix, and master.
Finally, most legit producers will spot check the entire finished audio file against the script to ensure all noises and errors were removed, all words are accounted for and pronounced correctly, and the tonality matches what the director expects. Anything that’s out of line goes back through the entire process again. Allowing for note taking and short breaks, quality checks take about 1.5 hours per finished hour of audio.
In the worst cases, we’re at 6 to 6.5 hours of work for one hour of finished audio. So, if you’re charging $250 per finished hour, you’re really making $38 - $42 an hour for all your labor. Not awful money for sitting on your duff for a week or two straight.
Obviously, those of us with a few audiobooks under our belts, a little more voice acting experience, and the uncanny ability to instantly conjure up several character voices can command a little more. Personally, at this point in my career and based on my abilities, I bill a non-negotiable $600 PFH for independent producers, and scale for large publishers.
Typically, large publishers have teams who produce, direct, and edit, so the situation is a little different. You typically read with a director listening and following the script, and a separate recording engineer records the audio and marks spots what will require editing in post production. Voice actors only have to voice act in this situation. Honestly, it’s kind of nice.