Since you are reading this, you might be considering commissioning music for your church. Such pieces could align with a major liturgy, celebrate an anniversary or retirement, honor a long-standing church member, or be in memory of a member of your choir or congregation. Those involved in a commission enjoy the whole process and it can become a gift to the wider church as well. Below are some guidelines to help you in your beginning a commissioning process.
Start with a budget. Keep in mind the range of fees which we list below. Perhaps there is a particular donor in the congregation, or your choir wants to do the commissioning. Make them part of the process and your congregation as well (unless it is to be a surprise) so that the whole church will have an investment in the project.
Begin negotiations. You will want to have some of the parameters set, but have some flexibility to allow for the composer's input. These parameters might include the date of the first performance, the choral voicing, instruments to be used, the text to be used, approximate length of the work, date of delivery.
Sign a letter of agreement. The agreement should include the following:
- Identify the comissioning party and composer and state that the composer is not an employee and is not working "for hire"
- Describe the work as negotiated
- Indicate delivery dates for the completed work and all parts necessary for performance
- List the agreed-upon fee and method of payment (generally you will pay 50% on signing the agreement and 50% when the completed work is delivered)
- Describe composer's liability if the work is not completed
- Include a clause indicating that the composer will not infringe on any existing copyright
- List fees or travel expenses that will be paid if you plan to have the composer at the premiere.
- List what license is granted to the commissioning party (including performance, recording, and local reproduction) and whether there are rental fees for use of the parts.
The composer will want to retain the copyright to the piece (or it might automatically be granted to their publisher) and they will generally hold on to their original manuscripts. For extended works, instrumental parts belong to the composer or publisher, but you will have exclusive use of them for a period of time.
Below is a range of commission fees, all of which are negotiable, and all of which are dependent, at least in part, on several factors: the length and complexity of the desired work, the time frame provided for its composition, the composer's reputation, and even the composer's availability at any given time. To some degree, the question of who is commissioning the work also comes into play: is it an individual, a church, or a foundation? Is the commission being underwritten by a private or government agency? One would expect that a private individual, say, a church organist, would not have access to the same financial resources as a large, well-endowed university. Therefore, allowances are usually made by the composers for your situation, but don't be stingy: the fee often dictates the work the composer is willing to put into such a commission.
Choral anthem (accompanied or a cappella) - $1,000 - $3,000
Choral (choir, kybd. and inst.) - $1,500 - $5,000
Larger choral - $2,500 - $1,000,000 (just kidding, though they would welcome the larger fee)
Hymn text or tune - $250 - $1,000
Vocal solo - $250 - $1,500
Hymn - $500-$1,000
Major works can be anywhere from $5,000-$50,000, and these require a lot more negotiation and a much more formal agreement than you might find in other situations.
The last piece of work in your commissioning process is performance of the piece. You might consider having the composer come for the premiere (paying for their travel expenses if you really want them there) and perhaps doing a lecture or workshop for the choir or congregation or community (paying them extra for this, of course). After the performance, and particularly if a piece is published, spread the word about the work so that others may benefit from the music you have helped bring into the world.