How much should I charge to compose music?

Posted by Emmett Cooke on July 7, 2011 in Guides

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

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. This Hourly Rate Calculator is a great place to start

- 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?

 

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