In the voiceover world, the subject of the usage fee has come up quite a bit lately.
What is a usage fee? A usage fee is when you get paid for a voiceover depending on where it’s used and how long. Think of it as a licencing fee. When you see a picture of Spider-Man on a T-shirt, the company that made the T-shirt had to pay Marvel Comics a fee to use the image of Spider-Man. In effect, you are licensing your voice.
Doesn’t the session fee already include the usage fee? Not necessarily. There is a difference between the session fee (how much you get paid to record the voiceover) and the usage fee (how much you get paid for the recording to be used). You should always get paid a session fee, but not always a usage fee.
When should you get paid a usage fee? It depends on whether it’s union or non-union and whether it’s broadcast or non-broadcast. In its most basic terms:
YES: TV commercials & tags, radio commercials & tags
SOMETIMES: web/social media usage like Explainer Videos (generally for longer periods of time than radio & TV commercials)
NO: audio books, video games, corporate, industrial, eLearning, medical narration
FYI this is a sweeping generalization and there are many exceptions.
How much should the usage fee be? It depends on the size of the audience, the length of time it will be used, and if there is exclusivity/conflicts.
The bigger the market, the bigger the usage fee. (local cable vs Los Angeles vs national)
The longer it’s used, the bigger the usage fee. (six weeks vs one year vs in perpetuity)
The bigger the conflict, the bigger the usage fee. For example, if you book a TV spot for Maybelline and you’re not allowed to voice any other makeup brand for two years, you should get compensated for that loss of potential income that you could have gotten from other makeup companies.
I’ve noticed that commercial usage fees can be anywhere from 50% to 200% of the session fee, but it can vary wildly.
What’s the difference between a buyout and a re-buy? A buyout is when they pay you a one-time usage fee no matter how long the voiceover is used for a.k.a in perpetuity. A re-buy is an agreement to use it for a certain period of time, but if they want to use it after that time has elapsed you get paid an additional usage fee. Often it’s the same amount as the original usage fee but it can vary. FYI buyouts are common in non-union voiceover work.
What are cut-downs? Cut-downs are when you record, say, a :60 radio commercial and they further edit it so it can also be used as a :30, :15 or maybe even a :5 radio commercial. If they do cut-downs, you should get paid a usage fee for every version of that spot.
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This is a large, complicated subject but it is critical that you understand how usage fees work. Lately there has been a disturbing trend of end-clients demanding teeny tiny usage fees for unlimited use and multiple cut-downs. If you accept those terms, you are hurting both yourself and the voiceover industry in the long-run. As always: do your research, ask good questions, and don’t get pushed around!
To better understand union usage, go to http://sagaftranumbers.sagaftra.org.
To better understand non-union usage, go to https://www.globalvoiceacademy.com/gvaa-rate-guide.
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Tom Dheere is a 20+year veteran of the voice over industry who has narrated thousands of projects for hundreds of clients in over a dozen countries. He is also voiceover business & marketing consultant known as the VO Strategist and is currently producing the comic book “Agent 1.22”.