How much should I charge to compose music?

One of the most asked questions by composers is “How Much Should I Charge to Write Music“?

No matter the type of media – whether its an amateur film,  a wedding video, an online game – its a tough question.  What if you ask for too much and they laugh at you, or you ask for too little when you could have got more?

The answer is never a simple one and will always change based a a huge number of variables.  However, there are a few things you can do to narrow down the number you should be looking for.

Some Questions to Ask Yourself

Is this a hobby, or a full time job?If you’re doing this as a hobby, then you’re not relying solely on the income to live on. However, if you charge too little, you’re also reducing the value of the industry as a whole.

If its a full time job, you need to seriously decide on how much you need in order to make it profitable.

If you do this, will you get more work? This can often be confused with – “Will I be asked to do more work for free further down the line”.

Can they offer any services in return? Not as dodgy/creepy as it sounds. I have written music for photographers, graphic designers, web designers and many more people for “free”. However, in return, I have received their services for “free” also – for example, I recently had my photo taken professionally by a great photographer (which would have cost a lot of money), and in return I am providing him with a free license to use one of my tracks in a slideshow.

How much are you worth? If you compose as a full time/ part time job or would like to, you should treat it like one.  If you walked into work and your boss says “Hey, I’m going to need you to come into work tomorrow and work 10 hours for free”, you’re going to tell them where to stick it. Its the same with self-employment. You’ll get plenty of requests for music for free.

So what do I charge?

Great question.  Here are a few ideas:

Ask for a percentage of the budget.  In large feature films, composers can often get from between 5%-10% of the overall budget (Don’t forget this includes the costs of recording the music, which can be huge, meaning not as much profit as you think).  If you think the budget is big, you could try ask for between 5% – 10% and negotiate from there – this depends on the type of project (is it a film/ video game?) as well as the size of the budget – 5% of $10 isn’t a lot!

Charge an hourly rate.  You could set an hourly rate for composing, give a rough estimate of how many hours it would take to write the music and allow for a little negotiation.  You might be selling yourself short, or then again, you may not.

Charge a flat rate per minute of music. Some composers charge a specific rate per minute of music created, depending on the number of instruments.  Again, it depends on the project, but for some small projects, you can set a price per minute of music for 1-5 instruments, 6-10 instruments, and 11 instruments upwards. For example:

  • 1-5 instruments – $300 per minute
  • 6-10 instrument – $450 per minute
  • 11 instruments upwards – $600 per minute

Pull a number out of your head.  Works for some people – I wouldn’t suggest it.

A couple of things to remember:

  1. Specify EXACTLY what you are doing for the price. “You will get X amount of free changes, X amount of music, within X amount of time”.
  2. Sign a contract with the above agreed details.
  3. The job may go on for longer than expected. You may think it will be done by a certain date, but chances are, it might take longer to complete due to external factors.
  4. Pricing yourself lower, will make you the cheaper option. They’ll always come to you as the cheap guy, and if they want quality, they’ll probably associate it with the more expensive person.
  5. By starting with a higher number and coming down, you have a lot more space for negotiation.  Start with a low price and you have no space for negotiation – only down.
  6. Breakdown your estimate to show what expenses you will incur and how many hours it will take to complete.  It makes it a little easier for the client to take it in.
  7. Ask the client if they have a budget in mind. The number they give might be smaller than their actual budget – thats where negotiation comes in.
  8. Free work, with the promise of paid work further down the line, can be an easy trap to fall into. However, people can always afford something. You should always get something out of the deal, whether its their own services in return (web designer/photographer etc.) or even a cup of coffee.  Think of it like this – would you ask a plumber to fix your radiators for free the first time, but tell him you’ll definitively pay him the next time he does it? I think not…

Let me know in the comments, what your thoughts are on the subject. Am I completely wrong or am I on the right track?

Written by: admin

Emmett Cooke is an Irish composer for film, tv and video games. His music has been used around the world by high profile companies including Sony Playstation, Ralph Lauren, ABC, CBS, NBC, Lockheed Martin and many more.

  • C Greive

    Definitely on the right track. With the demise of the union here work has become more open market. I routinely find myself doing ‘swaps’ in equal measure to well paid work.
    Nice site….checking it out.

    • admin

      Thanks Chris, glad you like it :)

      Yea, swapping services are a great way of working for “free” while getting something for it.


  • Pingback: How much should I charge to compose music? « peter leutscher

  • Cory

    In the past eight months, I scored 4 shorts, and 3 of them were for free in hopes of being brought back for future projects. Now, two of the directors who I did free work for are now in fact bringing me back, one for a short and the other is a feature. I think free work at first is just fine if you’re providing quality work. There are so many composers out there that want to score films, and it seems logical to prove yourself by doing a free short (if you haven’t already established a name for yourself).

    • Ed

      Two of the three directors are bringing you back, but are they paying you this time? Or going to you once again as the guy they don’t have to pay?
      There are just as many video editors, photographers, floor sweepers, etc out there as well…and they’re all getting paid (or receiving SOMETHING) – the first time around, except for you. This is a big reason why music is being so insanely de-valued: too many desperate musicians dying to give it all away.
      If you don’t value what you do, why should anyone else? That’s the message you’re sending.

  • Poppa Madison

    The first rule I would suggest to apply is NEVER try to value your own music. To the Composer it is in the final analaysis, nothing more than the audible evidence produced to satisfy a personal need to express emotions in a form other than the spoken word to pass on to others. The satisfaction cannot be given a $value as sometimes it in simply inestimable.
    I have composed a few songs and music pieces. Their coming into being was to largely to satisfy my own need to express myself first, sometimes send a highly specialised and emotive message to the person who was the object of my attentions so as to come up with it , or just something to leave to my family as an inheritance keepsake when I am gone from this world.
    So my answer to the question is:- YOU produce works commensurate with what you determine is the $value of the Budget your client is prepared to up-front commit to. Your level success in achieving something to their satisfaction will depend entirely upon how well you can convert what their perception of their GOAL is into musical terms. Bush Music might help sell Pizzas, but not …….wait for it……
    ANY MUSIC CAN HELP SELL ANYTHING ….you just have to prove its relevance with the supporting marketing efforts of your PAYING CLIENT.

    This and other idea GEMS can be yours…….YOu only have to sleep and dream!

  • John R

    These are great posts. I’ve been approached to do multiple instrumentals in Malayalam style (South India) style; there will be about 30 minutes of total music split into multiple songs. This is a work for hire gig. They want to keep the rights after it’s all completed/approved. Since this is a musical style that isn’t normally done in America, I decided to charge more per minute. I’m playing all the instruments and using no midi or anything pre-packaged. There will probably be upwards of over 8 to 11 instruments on any one tune, I may start charging around $2k per minute. I’m also the producer/mixer/songwriter/band for all this and figure all those services wrapped into one are worth the money. I can see where the price can be equated to ‘x’ amount per instrument but the price should exponentially increase if you give up the rights to the tunes and/or do everything under one roof.

    Like Corey, I’ve scored several shorts over the last year and have found success through the quality of the product but it’s mostly been pro bono. Now that I’ve been there done that, it became time to charge for it. I’ve also tapped the smaller syndication networks for radio and wrote theme songs for shows which is a nice way to get a few royalties. It’s all perspective and the value you decide to put on the labor it took to get the job done.

  • Conrad

    Thanks for interesting article. It completely opened my eyes for dealing with the customers. Lots of useful infos here!


    100% ON POINT!

  • MetalRenard

    This is a really good post although now it seems I’m not charging enough. Haha
    Thanks for that!

  • S.E Hudson

    Great post!!

    • Emmett Cooke

      Thanks glad you found it useful :)

  • Nathanael Izaya Crapo

    I want to hire some one who i know inside my school district, yes we both are students, to compose some music for a game i am making. how much should i pay him for each track? each track is any where from half a minute to two minutes. this is not so professional recording equipment we are using but it works. the recording costs nothing because we own the equipment.

    • Emmett Cooke

      Thats a difficult question to answer. Do you have a budget for the whole project? Usually music budget can be 10% of the project budget overall.

      Alternatively, if you have no budget, then how many hours work will it take him and what hourly rate would you like to pay him. Bare in mind, if someone asked you to create a game for free, you probably wouldn’t do it and would have an hourly wage in mind :)

  • Christopher Edward Brown

    I’ve been doing a ton of session work writing and recording cello tracks for various metal bands. And made pretty much every mistake you listed above, particularly in regards to working for free. Thank you for this, you gave me the very advice I’ve been looking for.

    • Emmett Cooke

      Glad you found it useful Christopher :)

  • Will Bedford

    Would you suggest advertising your pricing on your website, or just tell people to contact you for a quote?

    • EmmettCooke

      Its up to you, but if you put your prices on your website, you’re stuck with them. Each project varies so I would suggest not putting your prices on your website.

  • Dan Spellings

    My grandson is involved in the music business and often I wonder how he agreed on the price of his services. I never did asked how because I thought it was too personal. You place your value of your work on the number of instruments does that apply when you arranging a score. Adam did tell me networking is very important now days music is a business and just creating. I notice you are in Ireland was wondering if you know my grandson Adam Gubman?

  • Trattacasu.

    Yeah, mate : you got it.
    “You’ll get plenty of requests for music for free.”
    Yes : and they’ll get plenty of middle fingers.

  • AKMusic Productions

    Emmett… the “Rate Calculator” no longer exists (as that website no longer exists, it has merged with another business)…

    • Emmett Cooke

      Thanks for letting me know. Shame as it was a good calculator

  • Nicolas Felix

    Hi Emmett,

    I want to know what you would do if the guy is hiring you saying is too expensive.

    Giving this arguments:
    – You do it for passion, that’s a chance you have!
    – The plumber don’t it as a passion in his little cosy studio, then it’s normal he gets more money than you.
    – I know what is it to compose music and you’re expensive!
    – For you CV (%$@#@ that!)
    – I could hire someone for free
    – and many more

    I normally try to explain and if he’s always thickheaded, I just go away!

    • Cyril

      If you have a good catalog of work, then you can definitely choose your clients and be paid right.

      if they say they can hire someone for free, then tell them go ahead. As the article and others say, everybody can afford something but some would try to get away for free so don’t let them exploit your talent.

      If they say they know how it is to compose music and you’re expensive, then why are they still asking you?

      People will always have a reason. You just have to know when someone is worth doing work for or not. It’ll take some practice and some balls but it pays to know when to say NO to a client.

      • Nicolas Felix

        Yeah I did say no a lot this days but I found some jobs now! Thanks for you advice Cyril!

  • Craig fraise

    I’ve a friend who’s a famous celeb(globally), a big tv network just commissioned his prod co to do another one of his shows, he knows I’ve made music for years and never scored for tv so he’s given me the job of doing the music!…I have to get brief next week from an associated prod company that work with him…should I just ask what the budget is and then ask if they would mind dealing with a representitive, and then I find one to bash out a deal…or do I try and do this direct…and how do I break down the costs if I do?…clueless!

  • Sarah

    Thank you for the great info. I was researching the salary of a gaming Composer for school but also personally interested as well. I researched salary and the per minuet rates are about the same everywhere I check. I realize the time put into a project will vary, but can you tell me an average amount of time it takes,(estimate) to finish a project, so I can put the per minuet rate into perspective?

    • EmmettCooke

      Unfortunately that’s like asking “How long is a piece of string” – finishing any project, can vary hugely depending on so many things :)

      • Michael

        Thank you for the interesting article.

      • Guy Smiley

        Emmett, you have like 5 profiles on IMDB, maybe you should merge them
        all in to one? Makes it easier to find your filmography if they are all
        on one profile. If you ask their support team, they will fix that for you.



  • Nicolas Felix

    Is this a buy out deal for the per minute rates?

  • Eric Baum

    Nice article Emmet. You summarize a difficult topic quickly and thoroughly. If more people educate themselves on proper payment maybe the industry will stop devaluing music. Thanks for taking the time to share your insight!

  • The Proofreader

    Some sneaky numbers crept into the article! “they’ll probably ass0c9ate 9t w9th the more expensive person.”

    • Guy Smiley

      oooohhh….. 9.9.9….. the number of the magickal composer… the sercret society of the illuminated keyboard cowboys… who control the soundtracks of hollywood

      • EmmettCooke

        Whoopsy updating it now thanks!

  • Chris J Mocke

    Thanx Emmett

  • jw_pfeifer

    Excellent article! This is a difficult question to answer since there can be a lot of variables in a project that would determine the price you would want to charge for composing. The article provides a lot of great ideas on how to approach the pricing discussion.

  • Guy Smiley

    Emmett, you have like 5 profiles on IMDB, maybe you should merge them all in to one? Makes it easier to find your filmography if they are all on one profile.

    • EmmettCooke

      You’re absolutely right Guy. I’ve never used IMDB as a marketing tool, but I need to finally get it together and sort out my profile once and for all. Thanks for letting me know :)

      • Guy Smiley

        My IMDB was fixed by them when I had 2 profiles, they merged them in to one. I dont use mine as a marketing tool either, but more of a partial list of my filmography, since not everything I have done has an IMDB page, It wont show them all. Here is my IMDB:

        • EmmettCooke

          Awesome that looks great Guy. Who did you contact to merge your profiles? Did you need IMDB Pro?

          • Guy Smiley

            just their regular support people, they’re good peoples, I’m sure multiple profiles for the same composer happens on a somewhat regular basis, because of multiple people adding you, and not checking to see if you already had a listing on there.

          • Guy Smiley

            altough, if you do the 30-day free trial of Pro, it might speed it up a bit, etc

          • Guy Smiley

            Hey where I can hear your music? website? soundcloud?

          • EmmettCooke

            great I’ll get it sorted out now cheers. Most of my music is set to private to be honest, but you can hear some on and my website


          • Guy Smiley

            in all due respect, how do you get jobs if you’re so hard to find? Are your parents like some major hollywood people? This is a TOUGH, and competitive business, no matter how talented you are.. how can you not have a website and all that marketing jazz and make a living as a composer?

          • EmmettCooke

            My message seems to have been cut off. My website is too.

            I focus mainly on music licensing nowadays, and I get a lot of custom work from people who licensed one of my tracks and then request changes, then they become long term clients. Because so many of my tracks are licensed exclusively, I have to make sure they’re not available on places like Soundcloud for anyone to just download and use without a license.

            I get by really well with just my music licensing tracks and my website to be honest :)

          • NickyD

            Hey Emmett, very cool article!
            I’m coming at things from the opposite side of the table, as it were. I’m looking to contract out some smaller music tracks for an upcoming game in development, and offering prices has been a bit of a gray zone for me.
            Are you able to give a rough ballpark estimate for what you’d charge (level of notoriety aside; let’s assume you’re still a start-up) for something similar to your “Juggernaut Demo” track, except as a 75 second loop-able track?

          • EmmettCooke

            Hi Nicky, email me at with more information and I’ll try give you a price :)


          • Yhciul

            You can do it yourself using IMDB edit functions. No Pro required. You just submit your changes and they’ll review them.

  • Gabriel Costa

    It is also interesting to keep track of the time it takes to fulfill a project. Even if you do not charge per time. I recommend to use a time tracking app for that. As an example, this one called primaERP. It also generates reports and bills.

  • R Jacoel

    RJ… I need a music composer for a new love song… I have others that I have written, but this one looks good.
    Are you interested for a fee? If it becomes a hit we will share.

    • Alex Nikitin

      Hi RJ I think you should place an ad on relevant websites to find a deal.
      Find me on FB and we can chat about your song as I can do a love song for you.

    • Tushard Sangeet

      Hi R Jacoel,
      I saw your post , for need of a music composer !
      My name is Tushar Dutta [TeeD]
      I am music composer , By the time I have posted my reply ,you must have started the project , you can listen my some of the tracks on Soundcloud.

      This is my link , here you can listen my music :

      My email:

      Best regards
      Tushar Dutta

  • Brian

    Setting my price is cool and all, but I have no idea who actually wants my music lol. My style is a lot like Olivier Messiaen, and I prefer to work with 72 equal temperament. Do you know where I could look for people who want to commission music which isn’t so mainstream? I’m interested in video game and movie music, and I want to work on short films with an animator.

  • Ela Johansen

    I recently asked a band who I enjoy very much to do a score for my film. They are a new band, mostly unheard of, who’s touring as an opening act and not really capitalizing off of their music yet. I offered 500$ per minute for their services, as well as to pay for their recording and studio time. Their manager treated me like I was a low balling idiot and my offer was essentially a rip off. I’m sorry, but that really stamps my ticket and is insulting to be rejected or talked down to by a band manager who could potentially get a lot of exposure they wouldn’t otherwise have, plus be credited in the film etc. Pretty annoyed. They must think their hot shit, even though their a brand new indie band. Fuck em.

    • Sbob

      Hi Ela, sounds like you offered them a fair deal, especially since they
      are just establishing themselves. Get in touch if you are still looking
      for somebody to do music for your film – I just composed music for a
      short film and could send you samples. I was in indie pop bands for years – toured nationally in the UK. All the best, Stu

    • Parth Sheth

      I’m a music composer and singer songwriter from India. Would love to make music for any of your upcoming projects for a for fair price of course :) Let me know if you’re interested.

  • turtlefoot

    So I live on the other side of the street with this issue. This article was the first to pop up on my search for information on negotiation aspects of getting music for our indie feature film. Thanks for some great information. We want to be fair–to the musician and to ourselves when we begin negotiations with the individual we would like to hire for original song, and licensing of already produced songs. It seems there are no hard and fast rules but your article is helpful.

  • Grandpa Zig-Zag

    I have been asked to provide all music for a new national wrestling league. Will be live events TV and entrance music. Large budget. Any ideas?

  • Daniel Alberto

    Hi!! I have an order to compose 15minutes of music for a children’s audiobook…how much can I charge? The instrumentation is up to me… i’m from Venezuela and I don’t know the prices for composition in other countries…can you help me?

  • Ana Ramirez

    300 dollars for, let’s say 15 tracks per minute, to an indie game is a f*cking HUGE amount of money! Let’s say each track has 3 minutes, it’s 13,500 dollars! Unfeasible for an indie game project.

    • Le Keyboardist

      Not like that! Music is precious!
      In India music does not have a great deal!…

    • Adrian Newgent

      i guess in that case you could go for royalties for every game sold as an alternative option, next to a reasonable price for your working hours of course…

    • Andy Kotz

      That’s why people negotiate. Also… there ARE indie games that have paid more than that.

  • Le Keyboardist

    Very useful. Thanks a lot!!!!

  • Tanishq Sawhney

    Does the price include the cost of composing the lyrics of the songs as well ?

    • Andy Kotz

      No… this is for composing music (as the title insinuates).

  • Tom Collins

    Pretty cool of you to rip this article right from a Quora post without any attribution to the author who originally wrote it.

    • drachel

      That Quora answer cites this page as its source, so I think this might be the original.

    • Andy Kotz

      The Quora page took it’s article from this author (Emmett Cooke)… you idiot. Look at the by-line and the dates of publication!

  • Eashwar Subramanian

    if you create music for a commercial of 1 minute duration, per specification of the client and the client uses it for 4 minutes on a video, should you get paid extra for the usage of the track for 3 extra minutes ?

  • swrandall

    There’s an old saying..”When in Rome”… meaning that you set your price based on the circumstances of the situation. If you don’t know the people and the script is not so great is one thing. Set a price and they can take it or leave it…BUT If you dig the people and script, knowing there’s substantial risk involved by those producing the film: Be realistic to cover expenses etc… get the ball rolling and don’t price yourself out of the project. Get working in your craft to make it happen and cover yourself at the backend via the contract. If the film is successful you will enjoy the benefit.

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