Commissioning a New Work? What should I pay the Composer?

I get asked this a lot so I thought I should put my thoughts down for all to see

There are a variety of articles out there which talk about commissioning works, many even have prices

Pretty much all of those guides are considering major performers for major works. Yes, they talk about individual or solo works. But the moment you suggest a range from hundreds to thousands of dollars you're eliminating most of the musicians on the planet. A struggling performer can't afford to pay $4-500 for a new, untried work for potentially a one-off performance.

So, here is my simple method for calculating what I might charge for a new work. Think of a commission this way:

What would you want to be paid for a performance?

If you had to bring someone in to fill the shoes for a performer, what would you expect to pay them?
    My thoughts on what to charge for commissions are rather like that.

A small "community" group might not pay their musicians, but might pay $50-100 for a single musician to come in a play on a piece if that instrument was important and there wasn't someone in the ensemble to fill the roll. A piece for community level ensemble to play in a concert, $50-100 might be very reasonable for a 4-6 min piece you are going to perform once.

    A more competent ensemble, say instructors at the college or university level, might be paying the musicians more like $150 or even $250 to "fill in." Therefore, a more difficult piece, more demanding, more thoroughly composed piece might run $150-250 for 8-10 mins.

    If you're hoping to feature the semi-professional/professional musician, a real star player -  20-25 min piece --a real show-piece, then $350-500 is reasonable.

    If you are a semi-professional or professional ensemble then the pricing laid out in the links above are fairly consistent and reasonable pricing for commissioning a new work


Also keep in mind, if you are a non-profit organization, any donor who commits money for a commission can deduct the money from their taxes. A great way to get money for composition is to specifically ask individual donors to fund a piece.

I should say, these thoughts are how I structure my prices, my fellow composers might have different thoughts. If you're looking to commission a new work, you really need to talk to the composer and negotiate the right price. The "reasonable" prices listed above are guidelines, not set in stone. My prices are also negotiable for friends, special occasions, payment-in-kind situations, or extenuating circumstances. Just remember, I have to make a living too. So far, I've not been able to convince my school loan creditors to accept new pieces of music in lieu of money.

Remember, even as a musician can waive fees for projects he or she really wants to play in, composers can do the same - but this should not be the default expectation. What do you think is fair?


Chip Michael said…
This was emailed to be from BASCA, The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors
Anonymous said…
Your prices are too low, by at least a factor of 10.
Chip Michael said…
Dear Anonymous -

Perhaps next time you'd be willing to include your name when you tell me I drastically under prices, so I have some reference as to the comment.

My prices are fair considering my position in the classical music world as a composer. If someone wanted to commission a work from Philip Glass or even Nico Muhly they would pay quite a bit more for the 'status' these composers bring with their works. While I consider myself to be a good composer, I am aware I am not in their league. My music may well be as good, but my 'reputation' has not yet earned the same 'street cred'.

Also consider to whom I am offering these prices. We are not talking about the Philadelphia Philharmonic or the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. These organizations will pay a higher price for a commission because of the level of music they would expect. This is not to say, the musicians of No-Name-Chamber-Players are less worthy than the above mentioned world class orchestras. The No-Name-Chamber-Players are just in a different league, and so their commission structure is different (and should be in my opinion).

I would rather write music, than quibble over price. I would rather write 10 pieces for the No-Name-Chamber-Players and still have to work a day job than price myself according to commissions for professional orchestras, never get said commission and STILL have to work my day job.

My work with TwtrSymphony is getting me a fair amount of attention. Who knows, I may end up with a commission or two above the rates listed in this article, because the organization or individual asking for the music is above the 'causal' player. But, until such time as I have more work than I can possible finish, I would rather price my music so musicians wanting to play new music have an option.


Chip Michael

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