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August 9, 2022

You're allowed to take holiday as a voice over talent

You’re allowed to take time off as a freelance voice actor. Here's why....

You’re allowed to take time off as a freelance voice actor

I’ve just wrapped up my paternity leave after our second child was born in early July. Meanwhile the summer is in full flow, and we’ve seen people taking a well deserved break. Holidays abroad, somewhere quiet (or not) with the kids and longer days outside at home. And in the voice over community, we see people pulling out their travel rigs and recording in makeshift pillow forts in their hotel closet to continue bringing in that sweet VO work in between cocktails.

There’s an informal standard in voice over, (and I would imagine also true for other freelance creatives), that you don’t really get holidays. That’s a feature when you’re an employee, where it’s explicitly stated in your contract that you have time off, especially outside of the US. But you’re an entrepreneur now, so you have to work all the time. Maybe you’ll take off a week to go somewhere nice in a few years, but right now there’s just too much to do. Alright, fine, you’ll finally go, but only if you can take a microphone to do work while you’re gone.

Hot take – it doesn’t have to be this way. You can just take an actual holiday. No travel rig. No microphone. Just you and whoever you want to be with spending a few days or a few weeks doing nothing related to voice over.

I can hear the objections now, but I want to give my opinion on why a lot of these really don’t stack up.

1. But won’t I lose work?

Yes. The short answer is yes. If you take holiday every year over a multiple decade career, you will undoubtedly lose out on work. But you also lose out on work by sleeping. And having weekends. And eating. And showering. Every day, either directly or indirectly you are saying no to 99.9% of the available work out there for you. I very much understand the fear. This is an incredibly rewarding creative job, and providing a great service to clients is essential to long term success.

However, you can still be a formidable talent without ALWAYS being available. Voice talent and other actors tend to be allergic to saying no to anything, because they’re worried that the work will dry up and the dream will be over. This may be true if you’re just starting out or don’t have a strong skillset yet, but if you have the skills, you have nothing to fear by taking a week off a few times a year. Work will always be there when you get back.

Furthermore, the reality is that most clients will in fact wait a couple of days (sometimes more), especially if you already have a strong relationship with them. People understand that you take time off, and as long as you’re clear in your communication and set fair boundaries, almost everyone is happy with that. I’ve been watching my daughter for the last year 1.5 days a week (she’s in nursery the rest) as my wife’s job is 5 days a week, and I’ve never had issues with saying I can’t do a Wednesday session unless it’s the evening. The same is true when you’re sick. If you sound ill, it’s much better to tell clients as soon as possible and they can decide what to do with that information, and almost always people are happy to wait a few days to get what they need.

And if you’re still really worried about it, then there are ways you can at least manage it. For example:

- Go on long weekends, so you’re only off work for 1-2 days max

- Have fun in and around where you live for easy-going time off

- Plan holidays around your clients’ holidays. Christmas, thanksgiving, summer, national holidays etc. Most people will be off anyway!

- If you have a quiet day (and we almost all do!), make the executive decision to take the day off and keep your phone with you if something comes up.

2. But I don’t get holiday as a freelancer

For me, this is one of the biggest misunderstandings of self-employed people in general, proliferated just as much my people inside the self-employment world as outside of it. The refrain goes something like:

“…Well, the downside of being a freelancer is you don’t get holiday or sick days…

Whilst this is true on the face of it, as you don’t get paid on days you don’t work, it only makes sense if you solely think of yourself as an employee. Since in this case you don’t have an employer anymore, then no one can give you holiday, right? Except, YOU are the employer. You get to decide exactly how many days you take, and frankly every day is a holiday until you decide it’s not (which, incidentally, is reversed for full time employees).

The way to think about it is that you give yourself a contract every year that lays out how much money you’d like to make and how many days it takes you to earn that. If you make $100k working every day except weekends at roughly $2k a week, then sure, you don’t ‘get holidays’ technically. That said, you could just as easily decide to make $90k and take 5 full weeks off. That’s assuming not a single client is happy to slightly rearrange, and you don’t even open your laptop for 25 days a year. It’s just a choice of what job contract you’d like to give to yourself.

3. There’s more to life than work

I don’t spend tons of time on social media, but I was once aimlessly scrolling through twitter over a baguette and saw a post from someone. They had done voice over work the past few weekends and were excited to finally spend a weekend with their family, but then something came up last minute and so they boasted about going back into the booth and #hustle #getit etc…

Maybe this is a more European sensibility, but I was utterly dumbstruck by this. As someone biased against hardcore relentless hustle culture, I just didn’t get it at all. I could maybe understand sometimes wanting to make that trade, but I certainly wouldn’t publicly boast about it. Is it really worth not seeing your family so you can book an extra $400 in a corporate video? Even once a month? What’s more I knew that this voice actor was already making over $100k a year, so it wasn’t like they were desperate for money.

Now look – I’m being a bit judgemental here. After all, different strokes for different folks. Everyone has their own focuses, and we all go through stages in our lives in the short term where we might not do what we ideally would do long term. I’ve had times where I’ve needed money and been flat out. Maybe you do promo and agreed to a golden handcuffs arrangement. Maybe you’re a top .1% booking talent quite happy working nonstop because you’re making boatloads of money. Fine. I’m also in a very privileged position to be several years in and making a decent living, which isn’t always doable for newcomers. But the thing that frustrates me about posts like the one above, and people taking travel rigs, and bemoaning the lack of holiday when you work as a voice actor, above and beyond the performative hustle nature of it, is it seems to express something very clearly:

“I’m not allowed to take holiday”

I love my work, I’ve been doing voices since I was a child, spent years learning foreign languages, acting, singing, playing music, doing a degree in linguistics etc, and I get to consolidate all of those skills into a job that pays me for my livelihood every day, but it’s not the only thing in my life. By all means if you’re a genuine workaholic or need the money, then work nonstop and commit your waking days to grinding out voiceover scripts, but please acknowledge that it’s a choice.

You don’t have to do it.

It’s your choice whether you have a life outside of work. That’s the whole benefit of being freelance. We have limited stability and no certainty about the future, but at least we get to choose how to spend our years. Sorry – got to run, my daughter is screaming because her imaginary vacuum isn’t working.

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