Voice actors, also known as voiceover artists, give life to animated characters and narrate television and radio commercials. Many make singing part of their work. Wages for individual jobs are not always low, but the unpredictability of available work keeps most voice actors from earning better salaries.
Salary and Wage Data
Because there are so many types of voice acting and voiceover jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't track wages and salaries for voice actors independently. Instead, they group voice actors with actors, producers and directors. Based on 2009 figures for this industry, all actors earn an average of $28.79 per hour, with pay ranging from $7.98 to $74.44.
Because the BLS lumps voice actors with all other actors, BLS earnings estimates may not accurately represent the voice acting industry. The Simply Hired website says the average annual wage is $47,000 as of 2011. The Kaycircle website provides a wage of $25,000 to $50,000. The BLS usually assumes workers have a 40-hour work week, or 2,080 hours per year. Using these hours and the Kaycircle range, the hourly rate for voice actors would be about $22.60, or lower than the industry average. However, according to the BLS, anecdotal figures indicate hourly rates for voice actors of $300 to $500 for the first hour and $200 to $350 for subsequent hours. The extreme discrepancy between these figures means that although hourly rates are excellent, the number of hours work is low. Many voice actors don't work 40 hours a week.
Location has some bearing on voice actor earnings. The BLS indicates that the best states for actors according to 2009 information are Hawaii, New York, Nevada, North Carolina and Illinois. These states provide hourly earnings of $22.23 to $40.99. However, the BLS also notes that most jobs for actors are located in Southern California, Houston and New York. Pay often is higher in these areas for all industries to accommodate a higher cost of living.
Voice actors rarely have salaried positions. Instead, they work project by project. Some of these projects are just a single line, and most last just a few days or months. This makes calculating yearly salaries difficult, because there is no guarantee of future work and because future work may not have the same pay as previous work even if an voice actor acquires it.
Within voice acting, there are different specialities. For example, voice actors may do commercials or they may work in films. Wages for each industry can vary. For instance, the BLS indicates that, according to 2009 data, actors in film make $47.70 per hour. Those in performing arts companies make just $21.12. Independent artists, which most voice actors are, make $39.24.
Voice actors may belong either to the Screen Actors Guild or to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. A joint agreement between these unions guarantees minimum pay of $782 a day or $2,713 for five days for union members with speaking roles. Many beginning voice actors don't belong to these unions because membership requires experience in an SAG or AFTRA production.
The Bottom Line
Major voice actors earn well above the industry average. For instance, Nancy Cartwright, who voices Bart Simpson, negotiated a $400,000 per episode contract in 2008. This shows the financial potential of voice acting work, but the realistic picture is that most voice actors won't come close to these kinds of earnings, as most voice actors aren't involved with major productions.