Setting Composing/Arranging Fees and a New Chart

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.

[audio:|titles=There’s a Mingus Among Us]

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?

Paul T.

Just out of curiosity… what kind of figure would you get if you “priced”, say, each 8-bar section by the number of instruments you’re writing for?

So, unison melody for 16 bars might be “quartet” pricing, then a shout chorus for another 16 bars priced as full big band…

This is always a tough one! I like the idea of pricing “per bar”, however. I’ve seen other people try pricing per minute of music, which gives less of an idea of how much work is going into the composition. Then again, either method gives such a wide range of numbers as to be almost useless under some conditions…


That’s an interesting thought, and would certainly be relevant with the example I used here (lots of unisons and parallel melodies that were easy to set up with Finale). I think the union scale was probably set back in the day when most copy work was also done by hand, requiring an equal amount of work regardless of unison passages.


Bill Fulton’s site says that $22.50 is the rate per 4 measures. So with 193 measures, the price would be $1085.63. Your estimate of $1000 looks right on.


Oops, good catch Kyle. I thought something seemed a little high, and you spotted it. My calculation was $22.50 per measure, not per 4 measures.

Chas Grav

Yea, but, like Bill says, that’s for ‘light’ arranging, just basically putting notes in the right place, not a creative arrangement with fills and riffs and interplay between instruments.

Michael Myers

Dave’s music is well worth the money and then some! The arrangements he created for our quartet are great nuggets that are not only musically satisfying, but are also just fun to play. If we haven’t said it enough, “Thanks, Dave!”

Try his work…. you won’t be disappointed!

Greg Savage

Hey Dave,

I noticed noone has commented on this post in over a year but I found it interesting. I think your price points are reasonable. Music is a skill, not everyone can compose good sounding music and I feel people should pay for that (as Myers stated).

Do you mind If I share your chart with some friends?


Nice arrangement! And I love “A Mingus Among Us”, it’s the kind of playful tongue-in-cheek jazz title that catches your eye before the tune catches your ear. Keep it, and good luck!

Amy Winters

Thanks for sharing the link to Fulton’s guide for arrangement commission fees. The marching band at my daughter’s high school wants to have a few pieces arranged for them. I’ll pass along the info you shared here so they can know how much to expect for fees!

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