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ChoralNet recommends: How to Commission music

Date: Wed, 5 Feb 1997 16:47:44 -0800
From: kmechem(a) (Kirke Mechem)
Subject: commissions

The following was previously posted to ChoralTalk. It is in response to
the many questions and answers there about commissioning new choral works.

As a general answer to Martha Sachs's question, the following checklist
might be helpful. In actual practice, most commissioned choral pieces are
usually agreed to more informally than this guide implies, but anyone
contemplating commissioning a work (especially if it involves orchestra)
should at least be aware of some of the potential problems. I prepared
this list for an ACDA panel several years ago. But the intangibles are just
as important-such as knowing the musical style and skill of your composer,
and asking to see the text before he/she begins work on it. This checklist
does not mention fee because these vary greatly. When I was starting out I
would write for nothing. Now I must make my living as a composer, and
commissions are an important part of my income. If it is important to you
that there be some guarantee that your commissioned piece will be published
by a major publisher, then you will probably have to pay an established
composer's fee. Otherwise, why not encourage a young or lesser-known
composer in your own area. You still want good quality of course;
fortunately there are many excellent composers out there who are relatively
unknown and would do their best to repay your confidence in them.

Commissioning Agreement Checklist
1. Identification of parties
Is the contract between the composer and an organization, or between two
2. Description of work
Duration, number of parts, degree of difficulty, accompaniment, etc.
3. Text
Who chooses the text? Who is responsible for copyright clearance, if
necessary, and for any fees involved in copyright permission? Usually
copyright questions are the composer's responsibility.
4. Premiere
How long does commissioning party have exclusive rights to performance?
Usually this right is for premiere only, sometimes also for a stipulated
amount of time after premiere (to allow for tour, other performances,
etc.). Composer should be protected by setting a reasonable deadline for
premiere, so that if the commissioning party runs into difficulties, the
work is not tied up for years.
5. Delivery date
When is score to be delivered? If instrumental parts are involved, when are
they due?
6. Payment
Amount and method of payment. Usually the commissioning party pays half of
the fee upon signing agreement and the remainder upon delivery of score
and/or parts.
7. Extra costs
Usually commissioning party pays for duplicating of choral scores. Composer
pays for furnishing instrumental parts as needed IF the commission makes
allowance for this. Contract should state that composer is to furnish good
quality, legible score and parts. If professional copying or duplicating of
score or parts is required, who pays and how much should be decided in
8. Ownership
Commissioning a work does not imply ownership of it. The composer retains
the rights of further performances, publication, etc. The composer also
usually retains ownership of the original manuscript. The commissioning
party is entitled to keep at least one copy of the score and sometimes a
complete set of instrumental parts (which may not be loaned out) if this
has been agreed upon. Use of these parts in the future with or without
additional rental fees must be indicated in the agreement. (If the work is
published, the publisher must be consulted about this.)
9. Liability
If composer does not complete the commission, what is his/her liability to
return the portion of fee already received? If commissioning party does not
perform work on time, or does not make payment when agreed, is interest to
be paid to the composer?
10. Recording
Composer must approve record label of professional recording. A separate
agreement (involving publisher in cases where composer is under contract)
must be made concerning mechanical rights. Commissioning party may ask for
first refusal for commercial recording.
11. Publishing and licensing
a. If composer is under contract to a publisher, publisher may also have to
be consulted concerning rental fees and other terms of the commissioning
agreement (see Nos. 8 and 10 above).
b. If work is accompanied by orchestra that does not hold a valid ASCAP/BMI
license, it must agree to secure an individual license for all performances
of the commissioned work.
c. Commissioning party should state in the agreement exactly how the
commission credit line should appear in the published work.
12. Legal details
a. All rights not granted in commission agreement are reserved to the composer.
b. Amendments must be made in writing.
c. A method of settling disputes should be written into the agreement.
- Kirke Mechem, 1994
(with thanks to Association of California Symphony Orchestras)

Kirke Mechem (kmechem(a)

Date: Mon, 2 Jun 1997 13:59:55, -0500
From: Buddy_James(a) (MR BUDDY O JAMES)
Subject: Composer commissions summary

Thanks to all who responded. There is quite a variety in responses.
This will prove to be quite helpful to me, though, and I think to
anyone wishing to commission music for their choir.

Buddy James
Music Director
Neighborhood Church -- Palos Verdes, CA

I assume the better known the composer is, the higher the commission.

Also, the length and scope of the composition would be a factor in
commission offered. $100-200 seems fair for an unpublished composer.

For a published composer the fees would probably be no less than
$200-250 up with no upper limit, depending on who the composer is,
sort of piece you expect from the commission, what the prospects for
publication are, what the performance possibilities are, etc.
Good luck with your commission!

Lou Williams-Wimberly

I have recently charged as little as $500 to $600 for a similar
piece, either chorus alone or with piano/organ. A well established
"name" composer (like Stephen Paulus or Samuel Adler) would normally
$1500 to $2500 for such a work. So a *young* composer (early
with little or no track record could be offered at least $250 to $300,
would think (whether or how much the composer is already published
print is not really an issue). At this point in my own career, I
not charge less than the $500 to $600 mentioned above for a 2 to 3
straight-forward anthem, if approached with an offer to commission
such a

But there are things other than dollars which need to be thought out
agreed upon in writing (to prevent bad feelings later by either
I suggest you get a copy of the booklet, "Commissioning Music," from
the Composer in Mew York--it's free, just call them (ask long
information for the number in Manhatten).

You're going to have to have agreements on who is responsible for
cost of copies for the premiere, completion schedule, text,
sufficient rehearsal, time frame within which first perfoamnce
must be exercised, etc. and things like whether or not the piece will
recorded, and if so will the composer receive a copy and what use may
composer make of the recording. What are the non-monetary benefits
issues for each party in the commission agreement?

It is important to recognize that the commissioned piece remains the
composer's intellectual property. Well intentioned things like
photocopies willy-nilly for colleagues to look at or perform from
hurt the young composer more than it helps, for one example.
the professional contacts to the composer, or make direct contact on
behalf, then the composer can make agreements with the contact.

Mark Gresham

I have been on both sides of that table, as a composer and as a
member and cashier for my chamber choir. I don't know the situation
in the
U.S. but here we pay about $250 for an a cappella piece of this
For a bit longer one (ca 5-6 min.) for SSA with piano accompaniment
and 5
soloists I have taken ca. $570.

Hope this helps

Hildigunnur Runarsdottir
composer, music teacher, soprano
Reykjavik, Iceland

There is already a file on this subject in the CRS from past
postings. Check it out in the Reference subdirectory.

James Feiszli

I am published and I usually charge $500 for such a piece.

Lee Dengler

My experiences with both published and unpublished composers is that
$750 is
the *minimum* honorarium (and that would certainly apply in terms of
published composer). Depending on your unpublished source, you may
get by
with $500, but if they are plugged into the market at all, they will
that $750 is the going rate. "Big" names start at $1000.

It would be interesting to see a compliation, if you receive

Best wishes in this exciting endeavor,

Lynn Payette

My only experience was in 1990...paying $1,000 plus round trip
airfare (London to Los Angeles), meals and accommodation for 5 nights
or so to a composer who was just becoming well known (and is now very
well known) for an 8 minute anthem with a more-difficult than average
organ part and a soprano solo in the middle section. Our piece sort
of put him over the edge, even though it is only just about to be
released by Oxford University Press. He is now booked for about 1-
1/2 to 2 years with commissions!

Dan Golden

As a published composer, my teacher (20 years ago) used to say,
"$100/minute." This is probably fair for an uncomplicated choral
I think it safe to say that $500 would be generous, and $100 would be
If you are at a major church, the high side is more appropriate. If
in a small town, $150-$200 is probably reasonable.

Ray Fahrner


Dear Choralisters,

Reading the replies (presented in order of receipt) has given me an appreciation of both sides of the contract, with special esteem for those who shared their ³what I learned in the school of hard knocks² wisdom, thereby helping others avoid similar pitfalls. It is also a treat to see the convergence of positive, practical suggestions, as well as references to print and web resources. Excluded are brief posts simply expressing interest in the compilation (one from a conductor in view of her intent to commission a work next year -- Dr. W., enjoy! :>).

I corrected a few typos (e.g., ³bust² to ³must; ³fo² to ³of²; ³alot² to ³a lot²; etc.), removed a personal name from a sample contract, made some minor layout and punctuation improvements for the sake of clarity, and inserted (only!) four [editorial comments--jbt] (Those who know me would probably place this somewhere in the vicinity of a Œpersonal best¹! :>) Otherwise, everything is as received.

Here is a list of external resources as supplied (no¹s. 4 and 5 worked for me; no. 3 didn¹t because of my browser¹s incompatibility):

1) ³The Chorus Handbook², chapter 12, pub. Chorus America.
2) ³Commissioning Music² (brochure), pub. Meet the Composer, NY, NY.
6) ChoralNet's Repertoire page, "Getting Choral Music", link to Commissioning Music

In view of my offer to let composers publicize their preferences and expectations, I have appended a final section (#12) which supplies their contact information in the same order as their responses appear in the main body of the post.

This compilation has been posted after two days of receiving no more new replies. Profound thanks to all who wrote, and here is the result for our mutual benefit.

Brian Taylor,
Toronto, ON Canada

+++++ 0: Original Post +++++

Dear Folks,

A little less than a year ago I attended a conductor's symposium. During sit-down sessions with a few composers, one of them mentioned that people generally don't know how to write a commission. Therefore, COMPOSERS, what do you hope to see when a commission arrives on your doorstep; OR, if you have experience in writing commissions, what do you convey and how do you put it across when you sit down to write your spec's for a composition?

If there is a resource on this topic already in existence, please let me know; otherwise, I will be happy to compile answers and post to the list. PLEASE NOTE: unless it is requested that the answer be anonymous in the compilation, I propose to give names of respondents with their answers (this way composers can publicize their own individual expectations and/or preferences).

Thanks, Brian Taylor.

+++++ 1: David Griggs-Janower (Conductor) +++++

When I commission I send a note/letter with as many specifics as possible. I usually leave the text up to the composer completely unless the concert is a theme concert, but even then the composer is free to do whatever awakens the muse if nothing that fits our theme seems good. My specifics include such things as the size of the chorus, its strengths and weaknesses, and how long a piece we want. I say things like:

We are good at divisi but bad at double chorus.
Our tenors don't have high A's except falsetto
We are much better at complicated pitches than at complicated rhythms

It all seems to help!

[This raises an important point right at the outset -- *know your ensemble*, and aim for something that it has the potential to do well and can make it sound good! See also responses #4, paragraph 5, and #10, paragraph 5--jbt]

+++++ 2: Wayland Rogers +++++

For a starter I would recommend reading Chapter 12 of THE CHORUS HANDBOOK, published by Chorus America. The first part "Commissioning of Compositions" is by Dale Warland, the second part "Commissioning a Musical Work" is by Alice Parker.

+++++ 3: Bradley Nelson (Composer) +++++

This is what I use as a starting point: [NOTE WITH EMPHASIS ³starting point²: see also response #11, first two paragraphs--jbt]
Commission Agreement

With this agreement, we commission composer [composer¹s name] for the music described below and agree to the following terms;

1. Title -

2. Voicing/Instrumentation -

3. Approximate Duration -

4. Dedication -

5. Text Source (if vocal) -

6. Melody Source (if arrangement) -

7. Completion Date -

We agree to pay the composer the sum of $_________ (dollars) for this commission. Half of the amount is payable with the return of this contract, and the remaining half is due upon delivery of the musical score.

The composer shall retain all rights to publication, performance, and recording of this music.

Signed:______________ Print Name:___________ Date:___________
(Agent For Commissioning Group)

Signed:_____________________ Date:__________

+++++ 4: Elizabeth Alexander (Composer) +++++

You're right; many talented and well-trained composers don't know how to write a commission! There was NOTHING about it in my musical training (which went all the way to a doctorate in composition from Cornell University), so most of what I've learned has been through common sense, asking questions, listening and experience.

I've had a lot of experience with what does and doesn't work. The biggest thing that doesn't work is not putting everything in writing. Even with the tiniest commissions with honest people who mean well and communicate clearly, taking the time to write up a contract is vital. You'd be amazed how often this helps small misunderstandings to be revealed before they get to be large misunderstandings. In addition to that, a well written contract actually makes everyone more relaxed about the process!

Unless the commissioning organizations have experience in this area, they don't have any idea what should be in a contract, and there's no reason they should magically know this. I think it really has to be up to the composer to take the lead on this, but either of the parties can write up the contract. You don't have to be a legal wizard to write up a contract; just be clear about what your needs and expectations are!

The brochure "Commissioning Music" that "Meet the Composer" puts out is very good, and covers many important points. You can send me your address and I'll send you one via regular mail. In addition, if you'd like to take a look at my sample contract, I can send you one.*

Another thing that doesn't work, of course, is writing a piece that's not right for the musicians or the event, and this happens all the time with commissions. ("Too difficult" and "too long" seem to be most common culprits.) Although it might seem pedantic, composers need to ask many questions. "What does "intermediate level" really mean?" "How high is too high?" "Who's going to be in the audience?" "What other contemporary pieces have you enjoyed performing recently?" (This last question is a MUST!)

Well, I meant to just write a little bit, but it looks like I have many thoughts on this subject, so I wrote a lot. (More or less, most of them boil down to "communication, communication, and communication.") I'll stop writing now, and wait to hear from you.

* [Ms. Anderson has very graciously supplied me with her sample contract for inclusion in the compilation. It is placed at response #11--jbt.]

+++++ 5: Mark Gresham (Composer) +++++

There is a booklet called "Commissioning Music" published by Meet the Composer in New York, which essentially covers almost everything you need to know in terms of a commissioning contract. MTC has produced this booklet (with appropriate updates) since the 1980s.

However, the only real bone of contention might be the table of what one might call "New York" prices. Each composer is simply going to have to "negotiate" what is appropriate for their own market and career experience, but be careful to not undersell themselves in the process.

I would add one very important feature to a commissioning contract:

Usually a commission guarantees "first performance rights" to the commissioning party; it would be to the composer's advantage to include a clause where those rights must be exercised within a reasonable period of time after delivery of the commissioned work. (For example, two years.) Otherwise, without this clause the composer can be put into a position where the commissioning party fails to premiere the work, or prevents the work from being premiered at all. I have seen instances of both scenarios:

(1) A case where I was commissioned by a chorus to write a short piece for their 30th anniversary; before the work was premiered, the founding director, who had arranged for the commission, died; the next director didn't want to place the work into performance schedule, the director after that (I later found out) didn't even know the work existed. However, I DID place a "duration of first performance rights" clause in the contract, and was able to get another group to premiere it after that period of time was over.

(2) The second scenario is where a VERY well-known composer was commissioned to write a work for chorus and orchestra. He DID NOT have such a clause in his contract; the commissioning party did not like the work, and not only would not premiere it, refused to release the first performance work to allow anyone else to premiere it. (The composer and another chorus, orchestra and conductor ready and willing to premiere it, but they could not.)

I also want to URGE composers to make sure that in a commission contract the final payment is due upon DELIVERY of the completed score and parts, not upon performance of the commissioned work.

This also goes for RESIDENCIES where the schedule of payments is not on a regular monthly (weekly, or bi-weekly) basis for the duration of the residency, but is related to the "progress of composed works." DO NOT sign a contract in which payments (or requests for payments) are based upon "when the work is performed," even if the residency is administered by a "trusted composer's organization," and the contract is written by that organization. No matter how hard the composer works to get things scheduled or complete composition in time for rehearsals, delays, non-communications, and reschedulings on the part of the performing ensembles can delay hope of payment by MANY MONTHS. I speak from personal experience: DO NOT SIGN SUCH A CONTRACT.

Residencies should either pay a regular monthly check over the duration of the residency (if the "residency work" is the focus rather than the "compositions"), or an initial payment with additional payments upon completion and delivery of each piece in the contract (if the "compositions" are the focus rather than "residency work").

If a residency has the "residency work" as the focus, but payments are based on "performance/premieres of the compositions", you have a REAL TURKEY of a contract that you should NOT sign. The composer's finances can be *severely* hurt by such a contract; it is not in a composer's best interests. Again, I speak from personal experience on that issue.

When you compile the answers for posting to "choralist," please quote my entire advice and, yes, please use my name. If any composer wants to ask me for more detailed advice/opinion on this, I will be glad to discuss it with them privately. They can contact me by e-mail at mailto:mgresham(a)

+++++ 6: [Anonymous] +++++

You raise a very important topic, one which is sure to attract many responses, so I'll try to be brief. I have some experience on both sides of the question, and here are my thoughts:

The most important issue is communication between the composer and the commissioning party. Unless it is a huge undertaking (Metropolitan Opera commissioning an opera for its 100th anniversary, for example), there probably won't be lawyers involved, so it's a bit more difficult for the agreement/contract needs to contain everything that both parties want and
require. Unspoken expectations can spoil the project. Often the commissioning party assumes they own the work; this is not true unless the parties *specifically* agree to this.

Okay, getting to specific issues that should be a part of the agreement, some important ones are:

1. How long is the piece to be?

2. What is the total fee and how will it be paid? Composers should have a number in mind for how much each minute of music will cost [keeping in mind, I would imagine, the number of instrumental/vocal parts in the score -- jbt]. Also, is there a "down payment" upon signing an agreement? Partial payment upon delivery of a draft, remainder upon completion? (Many composers will not show a draft of a composition, so this is often not a possibility)

3. What is the deadline for delivery of a complete score (and parts, if applicable). And what fee adjustment, if any, is to be made if the deadline is not met?

4. Is a performance guaranteed? Is the composer to receive a recording of the piece?

5. Does the commissioning party have exclusive performance rights to the piece for a period of time? If so, for how long?

6. Does the commissioning party guarantee a performance or performances? How many? Within what time period?

7. Perhaps most importantly of all...the composer wants the commissioning party to be happy with the piece, and certainly the people writing the checks to pay for the piece want to be happy with it. The best way to ensure that this happens is for a LOT of communication before and during the compositional process. Get to the composer's work (one would think this was done before approaching the composer, but often a composer's name or reputation is all that a check-writer knows, and this can lead to great disappointment all around. Once the work is underway, a composer is wise to work with the conductor/performer to help ensure that the performer and
composer both benefit from this public display of their collaboration. American composer Libby Larsen has spoken and written extensively in favor of this method of working, and you can find her arguments at, and there are interviews with her at:

I have no relationship with Ms. Larsen or her publisher or any recording company; I've just been impressed with her thoughts on what should be a very close collaboration between composer and performer. Any composer thinking of entering into a commission agreement should read what she has to say on the issue.

My apologies for the length of this post. I was *trying* to be brief. At any rate, I hope some of this is useful. I'm not anxious to see my name go out with your compilation, but I won't sue anyone if it does. Thanks again for bringing up a very valuable topic for many of us in the conducting and composing business.

+++++ 7: Neil A. Johnson (Composer) +++++

I have had several commissions from school groups, churches and community choirs. It is my policy to first speak to the leaders of the group (director, president, officers, etc.) to decide what type of selection that they want. Since I have only done "anthems" I think that I would shy away from a longer work and would let them know that. I appreciate it if the group has an idea for the text (perhaps a given text itself, certain Bible verses or perhaps just the message of a Bible verse, for example), but it does give a certain freedom to select the text myself. (However, I then have to worry not only if they like the music but also the text I selected.) We then decide somewhat on the style of the piece (tempos, perhaps, or mood, accompanied or a cappella, instruments, etc.) and then I will try to come up with some ideas and later come back and run them by the same people.

As to fees, every composer is different. Some will charge by the page, others charge by the minute (performance time, not writing time), while others, me included, have a set fee for a "standard" anthem.

Of the 60, or so, songs that I have had published, I really enjoy doing commissions most of all since it gives the group an opportunity to see their name on the music and it is a great way for a choir (or instrumental) group to directly support the arts. I will be interested to see what other composers have to say.

+++++ 8: Craig C. Hawkins (Composer) +++++

I would look for:

1) the genre (orchestra, chorus, chamber, etc.) and size of the group;

2) the instrumentation; or, in the case of an accompanied choral work, what instrument(s) are available (flute, violin, pitched/unpitched percussion, etc.);

3) any special reason for the commission (Building dedication, memorial, concert season opener/closer...);

4) any preferred style (popular, "classical," a preferred composer's sound...);

5) contact information and due date;

6) and lastly, a proposed fee range.

+++++ 9: Allen H. Simon (ChoralNet Inc.) +++++

If you go to ChoralNet's Repertoire page, under "Getting Choral Music" there's a link for Commissioning Music.

+++++ 10: Ben Allaway (Composer) +++++

I've done forty commissions in the last 10 years, all shapes and sizes. I think it depends a lot on the composer and the commissioning conductor/organization. Some commissions come with lots of parameters ("I need a multi-cultural piece that will celebrate a music building, be appropriate for a homecoming concert, have an ethnic percussion ensemble, promote human understanding, and have one movement suitable for a Christmas concert"--true example!). Others come with complete freedom.

Finding the right text is a big part of the job. I'm happy to have the commissioner suggest texts. But I'm very particular about texts, about imagery and ideas, and how words sing. I am also a poet and have had good success in creating texts to fit the particular needs of a project. I charge for this, so it is another source of income for me. I am now creating texts for other composers as well. If possible I try and visit the choir before I begin writing so that they feel more a part of the process, particularly if the piece is about something in their local culture. It is important for the commissioner to have final approval of the text so that the subject matter is not objectionable to the choir¹s constituents.

If I have a particular project that I have hit upon, I offer it to the next commissioner, or will make some phone calls to conductors I've worked with that have an affinity for that type of project. With a multi-movement piece that I really want to do, I can knock off one movement at a time with each new group that expresses interest in what I am doing.

Some conductors have a vision for a piece, and I love the process of helping other people make dreams become real.

There are numerous practical issues. It is very important for the composer to understand the abilities and limitations of the group. If the composer just writes whatever he/she wants, there's a good chance the choir might not be able to sing it well, and that is a tragedy and a waste. I try and get all my pieces published, and often this is a goal of the group, to have their name in the dedication of a published piece of music. It is therefore important that I try and write a piece that will have a market. I have been fortunate to work with some great publishers who have been successful with some of my challenging pieces, so I haven't had to lower my standards in order to get published. This being said, my music is very eclectic, and I'm comfortable writing for all levels, from childrens' choirs to professional, and I find the right publisher to match the piece.

There should be a contract. There should be a professional recording done of the piece. I now have all commissioners record a rehearsal once they have learned the basics of the piece and send it to me so that I can catch any problems and fix them in time for the choir to learn the final version. This way the recording of the premiere has a good chance of being the definitive recording. I appreciate the chance to conduct the premiere performance, in part to have my interpretation be recorded for the future good of the piece, since most publishers use recordings to market music. It is often the practice in England that a new piece is performed twice on a program so it can be heard again and absorbed. This also means two recordings to choose from or combine through editing to have one great recording.

Regarding the contract, I operate on a half down, half on delivery basis. All agreed upon parameters should be in the contract, including the delivery date. I put in a reasonable grace period, since the most important thing in the process is to have a great new work, and if a bit more time will make a big difference in the outcome, folks usually understand if it isn't going to
harm the quality of the performance due to shortened rehearsal time. The conductor needs to have time to learn the piece before the choir gets it. I put in the arrangements for travel to be present at the premiere, which includes a fee.

Thanks for asking the question. Hope my thoughts help both commissioners and commissionees.

+++++ 11: Elizabeth Anderson (Composer¹s Contract) +++++

This is my basic contract format, which has evolved over the past seven years or so, and which continues to evolve. While I'm no lawyer myself, I based the original form on some contracts which two orchestras had lawyers draw up for them. Almost every contract I write is different, because almost every commissioning organization has different needs. Sometimes it takes two or three tries before we get the contract to where we want it. There are a number of other things you might want to put into the contract, depending on your situation. (See the Meet the Composer brochure, "Commissioning Music")

Often, one party wants or needs to change something in the contract after it is signed. This is no big deal! It happens all the time! Don't let fear of change keep you from putting something in writing!

Sample Commissioning Agreement

This document constitutes the entire agreement between ________, hereinafter referred to as "Commissioning Party," and______________, hereinafter referred to as "Composer," regarding an original musical composition, hereinafter referred to as "New Composition."

1. The Composer agrees to write a New Composition for the Commissioning Party, and to abide by the instrumentation, duration and timeline set forth here, as well as by any other artistic or practical parameters specified in this document.


2. The Composer agrees that the New Composition shall be approximately _______ minutes long, scored for ________________. [Note: you can be as specific as you want here, as long as all parties agree. You might say "Festive in nature" "Playable by elementary school children" "Based on a folk song" "on texts by an American poet."]


3. Rehearsals: The Composer agrees to be present and participate in the following rehearsal(s) with the musicians who will be premiering the new work.

Dates, times and places, if available: ___________________

4. The Composer agrees to be present at the following performance(s) of the New Composition:

Dates, times, and places: ________________________

5. The Composer agrees to participate in ________________ [a pre-concert talk, a workshop with young composers, etc.]


6. The Composer shall deliver the following items to the Commissioning Party by these dates:

Full Score: (Include number of copies) ______________
Instrumental Parts: _________________
Program Notes, Press Photograph, and Bio: ________________


7. The Commissioning Party agrees to pay the Composer _____________ for the New Composition in three payments as follows:

A. __________ (1/3 of total amount) upon the signing of this contract
B. ___________ (1/3 of total amount) upon delivery of complete score and parts
C. ___________ (1/3 of total amount) upon fulfillment of Composer's other responsibilities


8. The Commissioning Party will take responsibility for paying for duplication of music / extraction of parts
The Composer will pay for the duplication of music / extraction of parts.


9. The Commissioning Party shall pay for the Composer's transportation from her home in _______ to the performance in _________________.

10. The Commissioning Party shall provide meals and lodging for the Composer during her stay in __________.


11. The Commissioning Party will provide (or "make every attempt to provide") the Composer with a quality cassette recording or CD of the premiere performance(s) of the New Composition. This tape may be used by the Composer as a representation of her music in her future lectures,
grant applications, and promotion. This tape may not be distributed commercially or sold.


12. The Commissioning Party retains the right to perform the world premiere performance(s) of the New Composition. This agreement does not give the Commissioning Party any commercial recording or publishing rights.


13. The Composer will retain ownership of the music copyright.


14. The Commissioning Party will be identified as such on all copies of the score, using the words "Commissioned by _______________________"

The above constitutes the entire agreement between the Composer and the Commissioning Party.

Composer: ___________________________ Date: ___________________
(composer name here)

Commissioning Party: ________________________ Date:___________________
(signer name here, with organization, as in "John Smith, for the City Symphonic Choir")

+++++ 12: Composer Contact Info +++++

Bradley Nelson
1321 Pillsbury Lane
El Cajon, California 92020
voice: 619-463-5316; fax: 619-463-6272
website: http//
email: commissions(a)

Elizabeth Alexander / SEAFARER PRESS MUSIC
206 North Titus Avenue,
Ithaca, NY 14850
voice: 607-273-6489; 1-800-278-2087
email: alexander(a)

Mark Gresham / Lux Nova Press
email: mgresham(a)

Neil A. Johnson

Craig C. Hawkins

Ben Allaway / LMNOP Publications
211 Zwart Rd.
Des Moines, IA 50312
voice: 515-288-8883
email: benlmnop(a)

Actually, I shall take the liberty of adding, as a return favour (not, I disclaim, as an endorsement or recommendation), a composer who did not contribute to the compilation, but who kindly sent me a small stack of sample music (from, says the bio, her more than 450 compositions or arrangements) in relation to another topic (Thanks, Linda!):

Linda Spevacek / Spevacek Productions,
1040 E. Driftwood Drive,
Tempe, AZ 85283
voice: 480-820-5072; fax: 480-777-7901

+++++ That¹s All, Folks! +++++


I think there is a scale that CAPAC gives out, based on number


minutes and how much accompaniment there is. If you write to CAPAC they

might send it to you, or direct you on how to get it.

Composers are not required to stick to the scale, but it would give you

a point for work from. We commission Eleanor Daley a fair bit, and I'm

pretty sure she actually sticks to it.

As regards the narration, I guess you'd have to decide whether that's

part of the piece or not.

It has been my experience that it will depend on the composer.

Some have a per measure or per minute fee.

I would think the range would be $1,000.00 to $4,00.00.


The rates are usually per minute of music written; these can range

anywhere from $100/minute for a beginning composer to $1000+/minute

for a (Pulitzer, etc.) prize winning composer. But usually the
minimum is not less than $100/minute.


Meet the Composer suggests a fee between $4000 - $15,000 for a choral

work under 10 minutes. Their guide can be seen at

That depends on a number of factors: the experience and reputation of the composer, whether the copying fee for the score and parts is included in the commission fee (they should be, by the way--that is a very separate time and expense from actually composing the work), is the narration in public domain or does the composer (or the commissioners) need to seek the rights to use the narration, how soon the piece needs to be delivered, how busy the composer is, who has first right to record, what the mechanical royalty will be for the first recording if it is the commissioners, how long the performance exclusivity is, how the monies are to be presented to the composer and when during the process, does the composer have to do some public appearances in relation to the commission, will the composer be flown in for the premiere and will their expenses be paid during their stay, who retains the copyright to the commission (it should be the composer), how is the piece to be
dedicated, etc., etc.

The answer is that there is no one appropriate fee that will fit every situation without taking most or all of the factors listed above into consideration. "Meet the Composer" has a downloadable guidelines for commissioning that I would recommend you to check out. It will at least give you some starting points for discussion and negotiation with the composer and will help you create a contract that covers you both properly.

It's really going to depend on the composer. Some (famous) would


$5,000 to $10,000 and you would probably have an 18-24 month wait. A

published composer would probably run $1,500 to $2,000 for such a work,


perhaps even as low as $1,000.

I try to work with the individual or organization to determine the

parameters of the composition. It may be best to contact 3-4 composers


are of interest to you and discuss their fee and availability.


In Canada, the Canadian League of Composers sets rates for commissions


its members. You can find the rates at . Of course, if


are commissionning a work from a composer who is not a member of the


then it's a matter of negotiation between you and the composer.

In my experience it varies greatly.

If you are looking for a "name" person, it will run you $2,000 plus for


typical 3-4 minute anthem piece. Obviously a longer, more complex work


cost more.

Other composers will set their rates according to how much time they



You may want to investigate composers you may receive references for


local universities, etc. Listen to recordings of their works first for

depth, quality and understanding of the groups that you need covered.


are some GREAT composers out there who have no idea how to write for


women's chorus or percussion.

Finally, be sure that they understand your needs and do not simply use


to get out a piece they really love. It's a delicate balance but if


talk to them in depth, get to know them and have references, you should


able to find someone who is good to work with.

Finally, plan on 6 months to 1 year advance notice for the composer.


of these folks, especially the good ones, are booked.


In my experience as a composer, $100.00 per composed minute or portion
thereof is a current minimum for choral music. Given the added
complexity of horn, percussion, and narration, you might aim for
$125-150 per composed minute or portion thereof, unless the particular
composer you have in mind has other guidelines.

The composer's fee will vary greatly, based on several factors, but I would place it roughly in the $2000 to $3000 range. Some of the factors include:
1. the amount of lead time the composer has (a few months would be a minimum);
2. whether the composer will choose or write the text, or if it is supplied;
3. how elaborate or complex the piece is; and
4. what kind of experience and reputation the composer has (this is the single biggest factor).
As an example: If I were being commissioned, I would want to see the text first (or agree on a text to set). Unless there were extraordinary demands placed on the scope and complexity of the piece, I would be agreeable to the above fee, if I had at least three or four months to compose it (since I have a full-time teaching position). I tend to compose with thoughtful care, so more time would be better--or during the summer, when my schedule is more flexible.
We paid $2000 last fall for a 5 minute work for 8-part mixed a cappella.


Susan Marrier


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