Blog Voiceover Contract Red Flags

As your voiceover career progresses, you’re going to find yourself face to face with contracts. Some voiceover artists hire entertainment lawyers to go over all the ins and outs before they sign, but we only recommend the investment for high-dollar contracts. Otherwise, you may end up spending more money on attorney’s fees than you receive from the work itself!

For the times when a lawyer is just not the right choice, we want you to feel empowered to make your own informed decisions regarding what contractual tenets you are and are not willing to accept. Here, we’ve compiled some of the red flags you need to look out for to keep your rights as an artist protected. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a jumping off point when learning more about the business side of voiceover.

These red flags aren’t necessarily deal breakers. They may be clumsily worded and needing revisions rather than signifying malice on the producers’ part. Politely asking them about it may lead to rewrites for the sake of greater clarity.

Let’s take a look at a few possible problems you may encounter at the contract stage:

Paying any type of fee

As a voiceover artist, you are the one providing a service to the studio or individual producer, not vice versa. Your contract may contain circumstances under which you will forfeit payment—such as failure to turn in your recordings or violating a behavior clause—but at no point should you ever be the one owing money.

Be wary of contracts asking you for any type of fees or other payouts. Depending on the wording, you may end up owing significantly more money than you agreed to be paid in the first place!

Exclusivity and non-compete clauses

Exclusivity and non-compete clauses are typically only found in high-dollar contracts negotiated by agents, not the performers themselves. These are also more common when doing commercial voiceover work, as companies would like to prevent branding confusion when their talent appears elsewhere in the same industry. However, some studios hiring you for character work may request exclusivity if you’re working with iconic intellectual property. For example, Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse. Their voices are so distinct that their owners are extremely protective of characters’ portrayals.

No indication of when you’ll get paid

You have bills. Food costs money. Any contracts you sign to perform voiceover work should clearly indicate when and how you can expect to receive payment. “To be determined,” “to be negotiated later,” and similar wording puts you at risk of consistently seeing compensation for your hard work repeatedly deferred. When you’re relying on contract work either as a living or a supplementary income, you need to know when the money is coming to plan out your expenditures.

It’s a red flag if the contract only indicates compensation based on the completed work.

No indication of where your voice will be used

All voiceover contracts should indicate clearly where the voiceover work you provide will be used. This determines which rates you can expect, as well as opens up the possibility for renegotiating down the line should opportunities for reprisals, adaptations, and performances in other media present themselves.

The bottom line

However, before sitting down and signing anything, we highly recommend you take some time to do your research on what elements of a legally-binding agreement may hinder you down the line. We want you to have a fun, healthy, gratifying, and long voiceover career!

Additional resources

For further information about voiceover contracts and some of the red flags you may encounter, we also recommend reading Kira Buckland’s blog post on the subject and sample contract at Voice Acting Club.

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