I compose primarily for my own pleasure. The vast majority of the pieces I write, whether they are original compositions or arrangements, are for groups that I’m involved with already as a director or player. I do get the occasional commission too.
Often times those commissions are from friends or colleagues, so I usually undercharge them in those cases. I’m usually just excited that someone who knows my work enjoys it enough to want me to write something specifically for them. Just having my pieces be performed is good exposure, even if it’s not the most financially lucrative arrangement for me.
When commissions do come in, however, it’s a little hard to come up with a price that is fair for both the composer/arranger as well as the employer. One the one hand, as a band leader I’m full aware of how expensive purchasing new music can be, and commissions are even more expensive. On the other hand, writing out a full big band arrangement, for example, can take hundreds of hours of work to complete.
Bill Fulton, a composer/arranger/copyist living around L.A., has put together a good guide for what can be considered an appropriate fee for commissions. It depends, of course, on the size of the ensemble as well as the length of the completed piece. Someone not quite of Fulton’s experience can use this as a guide to see what the top pros make, and adjust their own fees accordingly.
I’m currently putting the final touches on a new big band composition. According to Fulton’s guide, with 193 measures at $22.50
per measure per 4 measures, I should charge $4, 342.50 $1008.62 for this piece if it were commissioned.
Here’s a MIDI realization of my new chart. You will have to use your imagination, since I haven’t bothered to create a whole lot of playback effects that live musicians will do. Also, the rhythm section and solo parts are generated by Band-in-a-Box and then dumped into my Finale file, which results in some strange sounds sometimes. Still, you can get an idea of what it should sound like when played for real. Would you pay $4,000 for this? Probably $1,000 would be closer to what I think is appropriate when I get to do my own thing.
While I’ve got your attention, I’m having trouble coming up for a title for this chart. My working title has been There’s a Mingus Among Us, since I stole, er borrowed, some ideas from Charles Mingus’s Reincarnation of a Lovebird. Unfortunately, it turns out that title (and a couple of variations on it) has already been taken. Anyone have a bright idea for a different title?