Commissioning a Composition
Commissioning a new piece of music is a wonderful, rewarding experience for both the composer and the commissioning party, and there are a lot of things to think about. I find that people come to the process with many levels of experience, and every composer works in different ways, so I’ve outlined some details that are specific to my particular process below.
A good “rule of thumb” is to allow 18–24 months from the signing of an agreement until the work has been completed and is ready to be given to the musicians to prepare for performance. A smaller scale work might be written in a few months.
Getting to Know Each Other
I love getting to know musicians and enjoy imagining you performing the finished work as I’m working on it. If attending a live performance isn’t possible, I may request recordings of your ensemble, recent programs, or ask to attend a general rehearsal before even signing the contract, and certainly before beginning your piece. I maintain a Twitter account, where your ensemble members can interact with me, find out what I’m thinking about and working on, and ask questions about the music.
An organization called Meet the Composer sets the industry’s guidelines for commissioning new music. They have created a PDF that answers many questions about commissioning as well as providing commissioning rates. Below is my current rate schedule based on the information in the above PDF. All fees are negotiable and include engraving, copying, and delivery fees.
I. Chamber Ensembles Fee per minute
One or two $200
Three or four $225
Five to Eight $270
Nine to Fifteen $300
II Orchestra Fee per minute
Chamber orchestra up to 15 parts $300
Orchestra over 15 parts $375
III Chorus Fee per minute
A cappella (or with piano) up to seven parts $250
A cappella (or with piano) eight parts or more $275
IV Electroacoustic Music per minute
For the addition of an electronic part or tape to an ensemble add $75 to the appropriate rate
While the above fees represent a general range, many factors play a role in determining the commission fee. I’m always looking for interesting projects that stretch me, the audience, and your ensemble. Also, do let me know if you have concrete plans to help the piece live on past the premiere. Tell me if, for instance, you plan to make a professional recording of the commissioned piece, add it to your touring program, perform it at an international festival, partner with a sister chorus to ensure multiple performances, etc. This level of detail will help us negotiate a commission fee that works for both of us.
Half the commission fee is typically paid when we sign the commissioning contract, and half upon delivery of the score, but I understand I may need to default to your organization’s fiscal year, grant payment schedule, or donor specifications.
Creating a Consortium
Another option is to create a consortium of ensembles to commission a single work. While you may lose some creative control and sole commissioning credit, there are several benefits. Beyond the obvious benefit of splitting the bill, a consortium also
If the commissioning party has a contract they like to use, I am usually quite happy to sign it. I can also provide my standard commissioning contract. The contract considers duration, performing forces and difficulty level of the commissioned work, payment amount and schedule, degree of communication between composer and commissioner, and states what is and is not included in the commissioning fee. The commissioning fee does not include the composer’s travel to the premiere, guest lectures or community programs, interviews, workshops, etc.
Our Continued Relationship
I love to keep in touch after working with a commissioning party. If you perform your commissioned piece in subsequent seasons please let me know! I keep an online calendar of upcoming events and enjoy letting friends and fans know of performances in their area.
Thank you for your interest in commissioning a new work! I look forward to working together.
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BELOW IS A SUMMARY OF QUESTIONS TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE WE START:
Contact person & commissioning party:
Name of group/players to perform:
Instrumentation and Voicing:
Proposed length of finished piece:
Payment schedule and amount:
Desired difficulty level:
Desired text (if applicable), author, and source of text:
Deadline for final manuscript:
Date, time, and place of premiere, and any subsequent performances:
Is the composer’s presence required at the premiere?
Any other dates for which you need the composer present (rehearsals? pre-concert talk?):
How should the commissioning information read?
How should the dedication read (if applicable)?
If you hadn't commissioned this piece, what music might you have programmed in its place?