If you’re considering getting into voice acting as a career, you might have wondered, like I did, just how many hours voice actors work. I did some research and crunched some numbers and the answer is pretty unsettling.
How many hours do voice actors work? It varies because each hour of “good” audio can take 5 hours (or more) to record and edit. And most voice actors are freelancers which means their work includes time spent auditioning, doing administrative work and marketing themselves.
In this article, we’ll look at the typical times it takes to different kinds of voice acting work as well as the other factors that affect how many hours a voice actor will have to work per week.
How many hours for recording?
If a voice actor didn’t have to spend any time marketing themselves, or handling the business side of voice acting, or editing their own work, how much time would they work in a week?
For long-form recording, it can take 3 hours of recording for every 1 hour of good audio that you’ll send your client. Long-form recording includes work like audiobook and documentary narration.
For shorter-form gigs, like a 30 second commercial, it can still take an hour to record multiple takes so that the client has some options to choose from and to nail the “feel” of the gig. This is because a commercial (and other short-form gigs) might require some sort of “acting” to produce the right tone. So a voice actor might record multiple styles and tones to make sure that there are multiple usable versions.
These estimates are for professionals. It can take a lot longer for a beginner to produce the same level of work. In one case I found in my research, an inexperienced voice actor spent one and a half hours recording the word “wow” for a commercial.
And that’s just the recording part of the process. Most voice actors are freelancers, which means they’ll have to edit the audio themselves before they can cash any checks.
How many hours for editing?
On average, it takes 2 hours of editing for every hour of “finished” audio.
For example, if a voice actor needs to send a client an hour of recorded audio, they’ll need to spend 2 hours on the editing. And that’s after spending 3 hours recording the audio.
Sounds pretty exhausting, doesn’t it? Imagine working 5 hours to produce 1 hour of audio. But it’s all billable time, so it’s not all bad news. As long as you have your admin in check.
How many hours for admin?
Voice actors have to do admin to keep their businesses running. Simple things like replying to client emails, sending invoices and writing up quotes can mean the difference between a successful business and a flop.
Forgot to reply to a client’s email? They might find someone else to do the job. (And we haven’t even talked about bookkeeping or taxes. Which can also lead to serious problems for voice actor’s business.)
Depending on how good a voice actor is at the admin side of the job, they can spend 1 to 3 hours a day doing nothing but admin. Which is a major timesuck that they’re not (directly) being paid for.
This is true for most freelancers and, actually, part of the success of freelancing comes down to how well you can automate or systematize your admin.
If a busy voice actor is spending a lot of time doing admin, it might make sense to get an agent or even just a VA. This is so that the voice actor can focus more time on two of the most important parts of working as a freelancer: auditioning and marketing.
How many hours for auditioning?
In order to get the best work, voice actors have to be prepared to audition for every job. Yes it’s possible to rely on demos to help convince a client that you’re the right fit but, most times, a custom-made audition will go a lot further in securing the gig.
How many hours a voice actor will spend on auditioning depends on an array of factors:
- How busy are they right now? If they’re not busy, they might spend more time auditioning. If they’ve already very busy, then there might not be much time left over for auditions. (This is a common trap for freelancers which can lead to a “fast or famine” style of income.)
- Do they need the money? If they need the money, they might do more auditions. If they don’t need the money, they might wait for the work to find them. This could be especially true for voice actors who have a day job or who are doing the job as a side gig.
One voice actor I found says that she spends 1 hour per day doing nothing but auditioning for gigs. That’s 5 hours a week, just for auditioning. This isn’t billable work but, without doing regular auditions, it’s possible that the work might dry up so auditioning could be considered a normal part of being a voice actor.
If a voice actor’s main source of work requires in-studio auditions, then that can add up to way more hours per week.
- 15-60 minutes travel time to the studio.
- 15-30 minutes of waiting time at the studio.
- 15-20 minutes auditioning.
- 15-60 minutes travel time back home from the studio.
That’s a total of between 1 and 2.5 hours. Per audition.
Most voice actors do their auditions from home and send them online. But some gigs require auditioning to be done in person and that can easily add hours to their work week.
And none of that means anything if the voice actors can’t get the work in the first place. Which brings us to marketing.
How many hours for marketing?
To get regular work as a voice actor, it’s critical that your ideal clients are able to find you. Sure, you could rely on word-of-mouth for getting the work but, especially in the early stages, that can lead to some very lean months with little to no work.
Which is why voice actors need to spend some time marketing. This is different to auditioning. You might audition after you (or your potential client) has made first contact. But something needs to happen to get you to that first point of contact.
This could mean a website, or setting up and maintaining profiles on online voice marketplaces or running ads on Facebook, Twitter or Google or networking offline at conferences. There’s no real limit on the number of ways a voice actor can market themselves.
How much time does this take? Typically this is something you’ll set up once and then do minor adjustments to each week or month.
So in the first few months of starting out as a voice actor, expect to spend a few hours per day on marketing. But once you’ve got your website and profiles all set up, you might only spend an hour a week on this.
What’s that all add up to?
It can be easy to think that voice actors don’t have to work many hours to earn a good income. But that can be pretty far from the truth.
Let’s say a voice actor finds enough paying gigs to have to produce 10 short-form gigs and 1 long-form gig a week. And let’s say the short gigs are for a maximum of 5 minutes each and that the longer-form gig is for 3 hours of produced audio. (Maybe it’s a short audiobook or something like that.)
For the 10 short gigs, let’s assume 1 hour of recording time and 30 minutes of editing. It could be longer but let’s just average it out. So that’s 15 hours of work in producing those shorter gigs.
Running total: 15 hours.
For the 1 long gig, it’ll take 5 hours of recording and editing to produce every hour of finished audio. The client needs 3 hours of audio, so that’s another 15 hours of work to finish that job.
Running total: 30 hours.
We’re at 30 hours of work and we haven’t even looked at the admin, auditioning and marketing side of being a voice actor.
We’ll be super conservative and say that our voice actor nails their admin in one hour a day. (Just emails alone can easily account for an hour a day. Nevermind all the rest of the admin.)
Running total: 35 hours.
Our imaginary voice actor is already working 35 hours a week and they haven’t even done any auditions or marketing. We know that auditions can take up an hour of their day, every day, so that puts us at 40 hours pretty quickly.
Running total: 40 hours.
Marketing will be hard in the beginning but let’s imagine that they’ve already “handled” all their marketing while they were starting out. So we’ll just add an hour of marketing each week.
Running total: 41 hours.
This is just a fun little exercise but take a look at that number. A voice actor can easily work 40+ hours a week just to survive. If they suddenly get very busy, that number can quickly rise to 50+ hours or even 60+ hours a week.
Do voice actors work 40 hours a week (9 to 5)?
No, probably not. It’s easy to see how a pro voice actor can work a lot more than 40 hours a week. And a big chunk of that time won’t be billable time.
Can a voice actor work less than 20 hours a week?
If they were doing it “on the side”? Absolutely. The real question is can you make a full-time income as voice-actor, working only 20 hours a week? And I think the answer to that is a solid no. (Unless, maybe, you have the best agent in town and don’t do any of the editing yourself.)