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How Well Paid Are Dub Voice Actors?

by Justin Sevakis,

Patricia asked:

I've often wondered just how well paid voice actors are, are they contracted to any particular company or are they basically self employed? Is it a bit of both? Do they have managers or work for talent agencies who get them new projects to work on? I remembered that Greg Ayres once said that if he was in it for the money then he'd choose another career as he doesn't get paid any benefits. Does it depend on how well known you are?

Generally, across the entire entertainment industry, actors may be contractually tied to individual projects or series of projects, but never to one particular studio. That way of doing things died along with the old-school Hollywood "star system" back in the 1960s.

Anime Dub voice acting is generally a low-cost, low risk affair for everybody involved. Voice actors are freelance, paid by hours spent in the booth, rounded up. (In many cases, each session must be billed as a minimum of two hours.) The talent signs over the right to use their voice, in exchange for that fee, and specifies how they should be credited. Usually this is in the $60-80 per hour range, which sounds like a lot until you realize that an actor may only be needed for a couple of hours per week.

The actor has the opportunity to provide a pseudonym or stage name if they prefer (and many do, because if the actor is a SAG-AFTRA union member, and the production is non-union, they could get in trouble). In some cases, they might be asked to appear on camera or at conventions and other promotional events, usually for an additional fee. There's usually also a clause in the contract that the actor may not perform as that character outside of the dub production without authorization: for example, appearing in a fan film as that character, or going on a podcast in character would be completely forbidden.

Many voice actors appear a lot in the same dubbing studio's work because there are seldom real auditions for dubs, as there's just not enough time and money to do so. Instead, a handful of trusted actors will be asked to try out for a few parts, and once you're on the "trusted actors" list, you tend to get called back again and again. But there's no exclusivity there -- you're allowed to work wherever you can get the job. Other reasons include geography: if a voice actor lives in Dallas, chances are almost all of their anime work is going to come from Funimation (and perhaps Sentai Filmworks if they feel like driving to Houston).

A voice actor contract usually covers the individual dubbing project (I.e. that series or movie) and that's it. This is often because the anime publisher might not know if more of that franchise is coming. Often, the dub producers are forced to reassemble the troops every time a new sequel or spin-off gets made. The actors are by no means committed to come back. The only exception is for large projects intended for TV broadcast.

Are anime dubs enough to live on? As I've mentioned before, the answer is a resolute "no" -- every voice actor I know does other things -- sometimes many other things -- to pay the bills. Anime dubbing is one of the lowest-tier, worst-paying gigs a voice talent can get. Many actors do it as a bit of extra side work, or something to get some income when nothing better comes along. Others simply do it because they love anime and the anime scene.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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