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
- Randall Giles posts this page: A Brief Guide to Commissioning Music
Johansen-Werner posts his thoughts: Some Thoughts on How to Commission Music
Ken Davis adds his 2 cents: Commissioning New Music
Abbie Betnis has her ideas: How to Commission a New Work from Abbie Betinis
Even the American Composers Forum has suggestions: Commissioning by Individuals
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?