7 Questions Composers Should Ask Before Starting A Commission

Getting a contract right will save disappointment down the line.

There is huge benefit in staying ahead of the curve and knowing what should be in a commissioning contract before you even receive it.

Here are some key commercial/practical questions to think about.

1. Deliverables

It’s obvious. But there should be no ambiguity about what you’re being asked to do musically. Is it a full score to picture, a "kit of parts" of core cues and stings, a fixed number of minutes or something else? Whatever the requirements, make sure that what you’re being asked to deliver is tightly defined.

If it is to be a specified amount of music (something we see fairly often), be prepared to keep the production regularly informed of your progress ie if you’re close to reaching your allotted limit so that, if necessary, contingencies can be discussed in good time.

What delivery format is required? Do the producers require music stems?

2. Budget

As important as anything creative, the music budget and its various components needs to be made clear. Will musicians, recording facilities and other third-party fees be included as an ‘all-in fee’ or should they be budgeted (and contracted) separately?

What payment milestones, if any, should be there be - that is to say, when, and how often, will you be paid?

3. Live or electronic?

Will your score be purely electronically created or include live elements? If only some musicians are required as opposed to, say, engaging an orchestra or orchestra section, is there a number of musician sessions to agree? Who will engage them, as they will need to be contracted too?

4. Schedules and Deadlines

When are you required to be available from and to? What are the music delivery milestones if it's a long-term production?

5. Who will own the music?

Will you be keeping hold of your valuable music copyright (don’t assume it should be forfeited - https://ivorsacademy.com/campaign/composers-against-buyouts/).

If not, who will publish? Will there be a reputable publisher behind the music who will ensure it is all properly registered and every dime of royalties is collected around the world and paid over to you on time? Is there scope to obtain a share of publishing income even if your music copyright is to be assigned over to a publisher?

6. The Soundtrack Album

Consider whether an an original soundtrack album ("OST") release may be suitable for your score. If it might be, it should be catered for in your contract. Mastering costs for 15-20 cues are in our experience around £850 (~$1,000), sometimes less.

Don’t expect to earn significant royalties from the digital release of an OST. But the PR benefit can - we have seen first-hand - be immeasurable for composer profile and awards' prospects as well as benefit the production itself if marketed effectively.

7. The Contract

Needless to say, make sure you have a written contract, signed by all parties to it, before embarking on a commission.

Bearing in mind the myriad of commercial and legal things to navigate in a contract - not to mention the potential perils for the unsuspecting first-time composer - it may be prudent to seek specialist advice from someone with an understanding of music law before entering into a contract. What you sign should accurately spell out what has been agreed; it should provide certainty and minimise the risk of any disappointment.

In particular:

- Do you have the correct agreement? Is it to be a synchronisation licence, or a full belt-and-braces commissioning and publishing contract (see point 5 above)?

- Special care should be taken with indemnity provisions in a contract. If they are all-encompassing, they should be challenged. The consequences of of them being relied upon could be very expensive. Consider having professional indemnity insurance in place, particularly if a wide indemnity provision can't be amended.


These points are non-exhaustive. Blogs are provided for information only and are not intended and should not be taken as legal advice.

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