Q It Up: How Does Your Station Handle Talent Fees?

q-it-up-jan98by Jerry Vigil

This month’s Q It Up questions the RAP Network about a subject that has long been discussed, butchered, twisted, thrown out the window, and probably is the cause of many production people quitting or getting fired.  It’s about talent fees (and the lack of them) for work that leaves your station.  It’s about management that places a value of zero dollars on your production by giving it away, thinking that they “own” your voice and production skills because you’re on the payroll.  (They might as well tell the client it’s okay to borrow the production guy to wash their car and cut their lawn on the weekends, too... at no charge!  Value added.  Of course, if your salary from the station compensates for these “extras,” that’s another story.)

An area where there seems to be some misunderstanding is the relationship between the production person and the station.  To the production person, the station is a client.  We offer our talents to the station in exchange for money just as we offer our talents to a free-lance client.  When one client buys our talents, we do not expect that client (be it the station or a free-lance client) to give our talents away to other potential clients.  This is the same as a disk jockey finding out his show is going to be simulcast on the competition’s airwaves, because “that’s what the client wants,” and the jock has to do it for no additional compensation because he is “owned” by the station who is trying to please the client.  Again, if it is understood from the beginning that your spots may be given away for free, and your compensation accounts for that loss of revenue, that’s different.

Fortunately, there are stations where talent fees are charged.  And, as you’ll read, all of these rates are very reasonable.  In fact, if management had even a clue as to how much agencies pay to have spots produced OUTSIDE of radio stations, they’d understand why we feel we deserve a talent fee for our work, and they’d really understand why the client smiles when he gets it for free. 

Here’s this month’s question:  Let’s say you’ve produced a simple 60 second commercial at your station.  It’s a basic one-voice script over some standard production library music.  Then you get a call from the sales rep or the client, and they want to use the spot you produced on another station in your market.  What’s the average fee you charge for the spot?  How much goes to the voice talent?  How much to the producer?  If you or someone on staff wrote the copy, do you charge a copy fee also?  How much?  Do you add on dub fees?  How much?  Obviously, market size will dictate how much you can charge, so include your market and/or market rank in your answer. 

(Market rank and/or population, if provided, is in parenthesis next to the market.  US exchange rates are provided where indicated.  For Canadian responses, it is assumed figures sent were in Canadian dollars.)

Mark Fraser, 920 CJCH/C100 FM, Halifax (pop. 114,000), Nova Scotia, Canada:  Regarding spots that go out to other stations, we have been using the same system for the 10 years that I’ve been at C100.  The rates are as follows:  1-2 spots, $99 (approx. $69 US).  3-4 spots, $132 (approx $92 US).  5-6 spots, $165 (approx $115 US), etc..  We break it down into three sections, writer, voice talent, production, and we split it evenly between those three.  If, for example one spot goes out, then the writer gets $33 (approx. $23 US), the voice talent gets $33, and the producer gets $33.  If there’s more than one voice involved, then the $33 for voice talent gets split between the different voices, etc..  If there is no station writer involved, the amount charged goes down by the $33 he/she would have received.  And we do charge for dubs.  I’m not sure of the exact amount, but it’s something like $4 (approx. $2.80 US) a reel and $3 a cassette.  One thing our rate sheet does not address is the difference between a 30 and a 60.  This may be simply a case of, “we’re running on our station anyway, so why complicate things,” but maybe it’s something we need to look into.  Frankly, I’m not a big fan of 60 second spots anyway. 

Danny Bishop, Production Director, KKDM-FM, Des Moines (#89), IA:  You bring up a question which has become a stigma in our building.  We charge nothing for providing our competitors with commercials we’ve produced in-house, nor for dubs, copywriting, and talent.  Our management has regarded this free service as a convenience (or added value) to our client, and some of my colleagues, whom I’ve pressed on the subject, consider this giving away of the painstaking work as a mild form of rape.  Incidentally, other stations do have fees in place, typically ranging from $25 to $50 for the dub, talent, writing, etc..

Dan Culhane, Production Director, KEEY/KFAN/KTCJ, Minneapolis (#16), MN:  Our standard fee for spots that leave the station is $100.  If it were a two voice, $200.  Our sales staff writes their own commercials, and I don’t think they’ve thought about charging their client for that.  This will hopefully change in the next couple of weeks when we finally hire a full-time writer for our 3-station, 24-person sales staff.

Jon Hogan, Creative Director, XS Radio, Palmerstown North (pop. 66,000), New Zealand:  Our station is #1 by a country mile.  We charge nothing.  The writer, talent, etc. get nothing.  We’re currently sending six to ten spots a week to other stations and receiving two in return.  (One uses the same voice nationally so we receive a localized version, the other because it’s closer/easier for the client to record there--I only have to jump over the back fence.)  When we’re recording for a client who chooses to record with us and send dubs out to other stations/markets, we charge for the tape/spool and the courier only, $NZ15 (approx. $10 US).  We keep being told that we, as a department, cost too much, but if we were to charge, we’re told the clients would go elsewhere.  Catch 22 really.

Dennis Coleman, Production Director, ARS, Austin (#51), TX:  Here at ARS Austin, we typically charge $75 for a straight v/o music, $25 for the copy fee (if any), and $5 per dub (small reels).  All money goes to the talent except for the copy fee (to the copywriter, naturally), and the dub fees go to the station (actually, back into the Production Department account to offset operating costs).

Kurt Schenk, WMAX-FM, Rochester (#46), NY:  Basic dub fee for a simple spot like that would be $50.  There’s no extra producer fees or writer’s fees.  Now this rate has been the same for 10 years.  I tried changing it at my shop to $75 two years ago, but caught too much flack from clients, salespeople, etc..  I’ve always felt that the current market rate is very undervalued, and I’m at a loss on how to change it.

Craig Jackman, Production Director, CHEZ 106.1 FM, Ottawa (pop. 1,050,000), Ontario, Canada:  As long as the client has bought time on the station, the dub is free.  We view it as a small part of what we can do to satisfy the client and keep them coming back, just like no extra charge for creative and production when they buy the time.  However, if a client wants to use our creative services WITHOUT buying time on the station, then billing is different.  We charge $300 (approx. $210 US) per script, $120 (approx. $84 US) per hour production time (1/3 of that going to the station), and generally $100 (approx. $70 US) per hour voice talent (although the jocks are free to make their own deals).  Billing is done through the station, and the client/agency is encouraged to attend the session(s).  We arrived at these figures after canvasing various production houses in town.  Naturally, we don’t do this often, but it averages about once a month. 

Richard Ray, 96.5 The Peak, Denver (#23), CO:  It depends on the client.  A little guy with a big heart, I might let it out the door for as little as $50 (no less).  A big guy with a big budget, at least $100 per voice talent, and at least $25 dub fees.  If it goes to lots of stations, I would also charge at least $100 for “creative” to do the copy.

Mark Johns, Radio City 96.7, Liverpool (pop. 1,300,000), England:  There is a system in our station where if you wanted to run the spot on another station, you would have to pay the v/o the fee for the station the spot was to run on, based on market share, eg. Liverpool £19 (approx. $30 US), London about £70 (approx. $115 US) etc..  Then you would pay for the transfer to the station ISDN, Overnight, etc., plus the fee to the radio station which would be 50% less than the original cost, eg. single voice commercial including music, £200 (approx. $330 US), station relicense £100 (approx. $165 US).  Depending on whether the station the copy was going to had a blanket license for their music would depend weather we charged the music out as well (at MCPS rates).  I hope this helps.  It sounds complex, but in practice you get used to it.

Dave Foxx, Creative Services Director, Z100 Radio, New York (#1), NY:  Good question.  New York being a very strong AFTRA market, the first thing we settle at Z100 is talent fees.  Generally, we work strictly at scale for something like this, as it’s work that’s already done and doesn’t require a trip to a commercial production studio.  So, talent’s usually gonna get a little under $200 each.  (Another $200 for each “voice” that appears in the spot.  For example, if one person plays two characters, he or she would get paid for each one.  It’s in the AFTRA contract!)  The rest of the people involved in the writing and production of a spot might be able to wrangle additional fees from the customer, but generally, since this was originally done as a service by Z100 and those people are already being paid a salary BY Z100, the usual result is no extra money.  On the rare occasion that fees have been paid, it’s usually $150 for the producer and $100 for the writer.  Z100 never charges dub fees, although it has been discussed.  We generally consider this a “courtesy dub” to our clients.

Kevin Minatrea, Production Director, KLDE, Houston (#9), TX:  At KLDE in Houston we charge a “talent” fee of $150 for a spot that goes out of the station.  I usually produce all in house spots whether I voice them or not, and most of the jocks will gladly give me from 25 to 50 bucks for working with them, and they keep the rest.  The only time we charge a copy writing fee is when we send out a piece of copy that we wrote for another station to produce.  For that we charge $50 per 60 second spot.  If we write and produce the spot, there is no copy fee.  The first 5 dubs of a spot and a cassette are included in the original fee, but additional dubs and cassettes are available at $5 each. 

Pete Jensen, KXLY-FM, Spokane (#93), WA:  I would usually charge $50 for a simple :60.  I am also in the process of trying to convince local agencies (and my own sales staff) that when an agency faxes over some script, and I produce it, they should pay even though the spot stays in-house.  After all, they receive a discount partly because we don’t have to produce their spots, right?  Unfortunately, several agencies have gotten used to the idea that if they write the copy, they can just send it over and not pay for production.  Eventually they will accept their moral obligation to pay!  I hope. 

Ron Harper, WWMG-FM, Charlotte (#38), NC:  Officially, our rates are $75 per spot for the market, $25 for copy, and $25 for an additional secondary voice.  There’s also dub charges of $5 per reel and $1 per cassette.  In reality, most clients don’t get charged for dubs (there’s usually only five or so) or copy.  If they want SOMEONE ELSE to produce the copy out of the station, then that’s a different story.  There is one client I will not charge for talent.  They don’t do too much out of the station, but they have been very good to me with merchandise discounts.  So I’ve chosen not to charge them.  Some of my free-lance clients get charged $100 per spot because they demand a little more attention.  One of my goals for ’98 is to raise the station’s rates to $100.  Even though North Carolina is a right-to-work state, some of the production houses charge union scale which is $189.50.  So I don’t think $100 is off the mark.

“TUNA” Jon Rose, WBYR, Fort Wayne (#99), IN:  At our station we pretty much each set our own fee.  I get $50 per spot.  One of the other jocks here (who is a good VO talent and excellent spot producer) gets the same.  I advise the lesser jocks to charge $20-25 until they get better.  My thinking is that their work DOES have value and SHOULD get some kind of fee, but “they ain’t there yet.”  In our situation, the voice talent is usually also the producer, so splitting the fees isn’t usually an issue.  When it is, we usually just charge the $50 and split the fee evenly between the voice talent and the producer--seems fair, since each only has to do one job.  No copy fee.  When I do dubs for my free-lance work, I usually give the first two dubs free; after that it’s $5 per dub.

Todd Richmond, Production Director, WMPI-FM, Scottsburg (#50-Louisville market), IN:  I am absolutely delighted to write to you on this subject.  In fact, an event came up recently at my station that makes this topic perfect.  My station has won several production awards both on a state and national level.  We are about thirty miles north of Louisville, so I get a chance to hear a lot of spots from the city, and I honestly believe we compare very well to the “big city” production departments, the ones that charge talent fees.  My General Manager does not believe in charging talent fees for our spots.  He believes giving away the spot to the client for other stations to run, no matter how simple or how involved that spot may be, is part of our “customer service.”  He also tells me that since he pays us to do these spots, he “owns” our voices and can do what he wants with him.  We have went around a few times on this subject, but to no avail.  Recently, I was given a production order for a thirty second spot from a business owned by a former salesperson for the station.  The flight was for one day, and I was the preferred announcer.  A couple of days later, this former salesperson called me to say she had faxed copy points for another spot to the station, which I picked up.  She then said she wanted three dubs of one of the spots to go to three separate stations and one dub of the other spot to go to a fourth.  Then she informed me that the only reason she bought any flight on our station was to get me to do the spots!  Needless to say, I was not a happy camper.  When I informed my GM of this, he said...and I quote, “Hmmm...,” and looked back down at his computer.  Two weeks later, she asked for two more dubs of the second spot, a spot that only ran one day.  She’s lucky we master all our in-house production.  She received six dubs of two spots that ran piggybacked on one day at my station.  It took me twenty minutes to write them, fifteen minutes to produce them (they had to be overdubbed), five minutes to master them, ten minutes to make the first four dubs, and ten minutes to find the spots again and make the second two dubs.  That’s one hour’s work for a one day flight.  So, in answer to your question, we give our spots away and charge no talent fees, presumably because upper management doesn’t want to properly recognize the “fee” is for “talent.”

Donnie Marion, Commercial Production Director, 104 KRBE, Houston (#9), TX:  I fill out an invoice if one of my spots flies to another station in the market.  We have a rate card with a charge line for just about everything you could imagine.  (The rates are set by management, by some divine management type revelation.  I don’t know whether they are asleep when the revelation occurs to them, but I’m pretty sure it’s divine.)  If it’s a spot that won’t even run on our station, which happens only rarely, the radio station charges for studio time $100/hour, which I figure is less expensive than any production studios in town.  After that, the charges are the same as if the spot was running on our station also.  Producer, $60/hour.  Main Voice(s), $100.  Cameo Voice(s), $25.  Writing, $100/spot.  If there’s only 1 dub of one spot, no charge.  However, if we dub for 3 or more stations, then we have a $5 per dub charge for reel-to-reel tape.  If a DAT dub is needed, $15.  Technology is pricy!  One thing that has been a custom while I’ve been here (6+ years): if I voice and produce the spot, I only charge $100 (voice), and just waive the production charge.  You know, I’m kind hearted.  But if I produce a spot that someone else voiced ($100), I want my cut ($60), and this could be doubled if the client sends a script for a “conversation” spot, “Hey, Bob...” ($100 for the other voice).  My argument that I should charge double for production because there are two voices falls on deaf ears.  This produces great confusion in the sales department, in part because they don’t agree with that “kind hearted” part.  Another reason is, I don’t believe they even look at the invoice for production fees we give them when they start working here. Sometimes they (sales folks) look at me with a puzzled look on their face and ask, “We charge for this?”  Usually, they have recently told the client, “We don’t charge for production,” without adding the qualifier, “that runs only on 104 KRBE.” 

Randy Cox, WERQ-FM/WWIN/WOL/WOLB, Baltimore (#19), MD:  If a sales rep came to me and needed a dub of a spot we produced to run on another station, it would cost $215.  $200 would go directly to the voice talent.  The producer and writer get nothing, since most of our spots are written by salespeople, and most of the voice talent produce their own spots.  $15 dollars would be charged for the dub itself, and that money would be considered revenue generated by the production department.  Being relatively close to several other markets (Annapolis, DC, Philly), “out-of-market” buyouts would kick in before long as well.  That could run from $300 to $600 per additional market. 

Dusty Rhodes, 2FM, Dublin, Ireland:  My average fee is as much as I think I may get!!  No lower than $100 for production only.  VO is charged extra and very much depends on the circumstances.  Again, no lower than $100.  In the UK and Ireland, most VO guys are members of the Equity Actors Union, ‘cos in the old days you had to be a union member to work, though that is changing.  Anyway, Equity has set up minimum rates for VOs on radio, TV, cinema, multimedia, as well as on screen appearance fees and every other damn thing you can think of!  A lot of people will either charge the union rate or above, and seeing as this applies to mostly Agency work, they pay.  As for sending additional copies out, the dub fee covers the cost of the DAT or CD, and an additional premium is charged for usage on another station.