Have you ever considered commissioning music written especially for you or your organization? Commissioning a piece of music is a collaborative process, and there are many factors to consider. The following will help you think through this process.

1. The cost to commission a work:

The fee is determined by a number of factors, including: the length of the proposed work, the instrumentation (e.g., soloist only, chorus, chamber ensemble), and the time frame provided for its composition. Once the piece is composed, a master score and parts for the performers must also be prepared. The cost for professional engraving is included in the fee. Current rates available here.

2. Payment schedule:

Half of the commissioning fee is paid when the letter of agreement is signed, and the remainder is paid upon receipt of the completed score.

3. Length of time a composer needs to write a piece of music:

Generally, it is best to allow 9-12 months from the signing of an agreement until the work has been completed. In some instances, shorter time frames may be arranged.

4. What to know about texts:

If a text is needed, you may want to choose a passage from the Bible or other sacred writing. For a secular work, a public domain poem makes a nice choice. If a copyrighted text is selected, securing permission to use the text and paying any corresponding fees are the responsibilities of the commissioning party. If necessary, the composer can assist in the text selection process.

5. The letter of agreement (contract):

Normally, the letter of agreement will:

  • Identify the commissioning party and the composer
  • State that the composer is not an employee and is not working “for hire”
  • Describe the work as negotiated
  • Include a clause indicating that the composer will not infringe on any existing copyright
  • Indicate delivery dates for the completed work and all parts necessary for performance
  • State the agreed upon fee and method of payment (50% on signing the agreement and 50% when the completed work is delivered)
  • Describe the composer’s liability if the work is not completed
  • List travel expenses that will be paid if you plan to have the composer at the premiere
  • Indicate what license is granted to the commissioning party (e.g., performance, recording, local reproduction)

6. Copyright and ownership:

Composers retain the rights to their own works so the legal ownership of the piece remains with the composer. However, the first page of the musical score will include an acknowledgement of the commissioner and, if applicable, any personal dedication. Customarily, the commissioner is given a presentation copy of the completed score specially inscribed by the composer.

7. The composer and the premiere performance:

While it is exciting to have the composer at the premiere performance, this is not included in the cost of the commission.

8. The commission and publication:

The commission will be published and distributed by Shaw Music, or it may be published by another publishing house. The commissioner’s name and any dedications are included on the published work.