Commissioning Contract for Composers (Free Template Download)

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). 

DOWNLOAD TEMPLATE

.docx format

.doc format

Another handy resource on commissioning from Meet the Composer:  pdf format

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3 comments

  1. Thank you for this. As a young composer who is beginning to learn about the business side of things, I’ve been looking for something like this as I have little idea on how to write these things up. I do have a couple of questions for you though.How would one politely and tactfully go about discussing the touchy issue of payment with the commissioner and how do you, as an experienced composer,judge and negotiate a fair price for your work?

  2. Samantha:

    Thanks for stopping by!

    I do occasionally field questions about fee negotiations. There are different approaches to this. The higher you climb the ladder in composition, the more you can demand (and probably get). Assuming that’s not the case for most of us (we can’t all be famous), I advise a more holistic approach to commission fees.

    Many composers start by developing a fee schedule which determines what they would charge for a piece based on dimensions like length, technical level, and medium. Often the rate is determined per minute of music.

    So, for example, you determine that for orchestral pieces at a medium advanced level (perhaps a very good high school orchestra), you will charge $500 per minute of music. If the local orchestra director comes to you one day and says she’d like you to compose a 10 minute tone poem for her upcoming concert, you would offer to do it for $5,000.

    If she accepts, excellent! But if she says they can’t afford that (as may often be the case if you choose to work with public school and community ensembles), you will have to help them make some decisions. You could suggest a consortium (more than one ensemble chipping in to cover the cost). That option is gaining in popularity. You could offer to assist them in online crowdsourced fundraising (many pieces are funded, at least in part, through sites like KickStarter now). If you’re comfortable with grant writing, you could offer to go that route.

    Should they, for some reason, balk at those suggestions (and you’re still interesting in pursuing the project), you could go ahead and ask them what price they WOULD be able to pay. If it’s anywhere near your original offer, you might consider taking what you can get.

    In the end, it’s up to your judgement and what works for your situation. If you have more questions, please ask!

    Best wishes!

    -BN

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