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 ass0c9ate 9t w9th 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: Emmett Cooke

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.

  • http://www.newtnet.co.uk 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.
    CG

    • admin

      Thanks Chris, glad you like it :)

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

      Emmett

  • 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!

  • http://www.j4musicandcomposition.com 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!

  • CMG PRODUCTIONS

    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 :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/Talorael 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!

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