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Commissioning rates for classical composers

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Commissioning rates for classical composers

Postby Mike Senior » Mon Feb 26, 2018 9:03 am

I just had a question asked of me that was outside my field, but figured some of you good people might have some insight. I know a composer who's been doing a lot of varied composing/arranging/performing/direction work already over the last few years, but is just on the verge of getting his first official 'commission' for a classical work, and he's wondering what's reasonable to charge. Any pointers here? It's a four-part ensemble work.
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Re: Commissioning rates for classical composers

Postby petev3.1 » Mon Feb 26, 2018 11:17 am

Interesting question. The Arts Council might be a useful contact.
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Re: Commissioning rates for classical composers

Postby Guest » Mon Feb 26, 2018 12:56 pm

The is no set rate despite what some composers' organisations may say.

Ask the ensemble what amount they had in mind, usually the ensemble has a rough idea of what they can/will pay. I also state that the commission fee includes attending a rehearsal (assuming it is within travelling distance of course) and changes mutually agreed on. The reputation of the ensemble and the composer, the venue(s) the work will be performed in and the reason for the commission also have to be taken into account.
If you are dealing with a funding body or organisation it is almost impossible to get a high fee but they will pay you for preparing parts, attending meetings, attending rehearsals etc., this can be a way of padding the fee out.
Also if the ensemble want a long exclusive period of use of the work that has to be paid for. I usually give exclusivity for six months from the first performance, providing the first performance takes place within a reasonable time.
With classical commissions there are usually strict conditions. The sort of things I have been given are things like: 5 - 7 minutes duration, no extended techniques, no electronics or instrument preparation (e.g. prepared piano), no improvisation, standard notation only to be used, and must fit into a standard concert programme.

As I obviously know who you are Mike, I can give you my mobile number and you can call me if you would like more information and would prefer to talk in person.
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Re: Commissioning rates for classical composers

Postby ManFromGlass » Mon Feb 26, 2018 1:45 pm

As I come from a background of experimental music I find the strict conditions list a bit of an eye opener, although it does make sense from the perspective of the dead Europeans tradition.
Just to play devils advocate for a second - on one hand I see the conditions quite an interesting template to create a work under. With the right mindset one would have to dig deep to create a satisfying work (to the composer). On the other hand part of me is curious about how certain restrictions impact on the evolution of the art form. But on the first hand - a work is created that has a chance of being performed more than once because it might be more accessible to the "general" public. Sorry to be so philosophical but I think about these things now and then and find them fascinating.
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Re: Commissioning rates for classical composers

Postby Sam Spoons » Mon Feb 26, 2018 2:22 pm

Potentially interesting discussion, if a little off topic :) Probably worth starting a new post over in the Composition forum or maybe the lounge.
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Re: Commissioning rates for classical composers

Postby RoadieChauffeur » Mon Feb 26, 2018 2:28 pm

As mentioned above, the real answer is whatever both parties can agree on.
A very rough guide to the scales might be along the lines of:
(currency in a unit of your choice, given the very ballpark nature...)

0: Most music teachers... :)
10s: Amateur/semi pro composer for a few minute piece for similar level of performers
100s: Small work composition for small event
1000s: Established composer for minor works. Low budget short film/documentary score
10s of 1000s: Orchestral work, low budget movie score
100s of 1000s: Big budget movie. Top name composer

But that list will still be wrong most of the time!

I think a good starting point for discussions is to think about the value of the performance the work is being commissioned for. Even for a string quartet (say) a very different fee will be on offer for a piece to premier during the Proms at the Albert Hall, to a piece for performance by a bunch of students in a church hall in Basingstoke. Remember the composers fee will form part of the costs for the overall event, which usually has to at least break even.
There's also the 'discount' that will be assumed to be on offer to get a first paid commission.

I also think, as previously said, it is usual to start from the point where the composer retains all rights, with just permission included for the premier performance. Any extra rights can add to the fee.
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Re: Commissioning rates for classical composers

Postby Mike Senior » Mon Mar 05, 2018 9:30 pm

Thanks everyone for the (more or less philosophical!) input. I'd figured it would be a bit of a 'how should I pay for art' kind of question, but it's great to have a bit more perspective on it now.
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Re: Commissioning rates for classical composers

Postby blinddrew » Mon Mar 05, 2018 10:01 pm

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