When you’re a young composer and your work is starting to make the rounds, you’ll likely have performers or ensembles become interested in commissioning work from you. This can be a great (and profitable) experience–if you know how to navigate the territory of the patron-composer relationship.
The number one principle (and the focus of this article) is the need for there to be a contract in place before you compose a single note. Some composers balk at legalisms–but they do so to their own detriment!
Whether you’ve been commissioned by friends or by people you don’t know, it’s always a good idea to spell out the terms of the project in writing. This protects everyone involved from miscommunications or faulty memories (which can happen all too easily if you don’t have something on paper) and prevents relationships souring from protracted arguments and arbitration. In the end, everyone suffers if you don’t take the time to draw up a proper record of what is, after all, an important business transaction.
So, to help out those for whom this territory is unknown, I’ve included a link to download a contract template that has served me well over the years. It’s designed to be flexible–add or subtract items as required by your project. I’ve included explanatory notes where I thought clarification was necessary (obviously you should delete these prior to submitting to your patron). If you have additional questions (or would like to request a different file format), please let me know in the comments section of this article. (As a favor to me, since I’m providing this for free, please retain the footnote indicating this site as the source of the contract template.)
Before proceeding, please note that I am not a lawyer–I am a composer experienced with commissioning terms and relationships. Further, by downloading this contract template, you agree that I, Brandon Nelson, assume no liability should anything go awry in your patron-composer relationship(s).
Another handy resource on commissioning from Meet the Composer: pdf format