Commissioning Guidelines

Suggested Scale of Fees

These figures were updated and revised by the Composers Association of New Zealand committee in 2007.

  1. Solo/Duo – excluding keyboard (including piano), harp
    • $400-$800 per minute
  2. Chamber/A Capella Choral/Keyboards (3-9 parts)
    • $600-$1000 per minute
  3. Chamber Ensemble/Orchestra (10-20 parts)
    • $650-$1400 per minute
  4. Full Orchestra/Symphonic Band/Brass Band (21 parts +)
    • $1000-$2000 per minute
  5. Orchestra + soloists/Choir (inc. Opera) (21 parts +)
    • $1000-$2000 per minute. Librettist’s fee should not form part of the composition fee (fee for an original, fully completed work is typically 25%-40% of the composer’s fee).
  6. Electronic Music
    • $600-$1000 per minute, excluding software, studio costs, materials
  7. Instrumental/Vocal works with electronics
    • Appropriate instrumental category fee plus 50% for preparation of electronic material

The schedule above provides a scale (minimum to median) of recommended fees. The minimum scale is intended to apply to qualified professional composers; experienced composers may require more than the median rates. It must be stressed that these figures do not include the costs of preparing and providing performance materials. Such costs are additional and are the commissioner’s separate responsibility.

Composers are urged to ensure all details of a commission are clearly spelled out in contractual form before beginning work on a composition. CANZ has prepared a sample commissioning agreement, which may be adapted to your particular situation.

For longer works (concert pieces of more than thirty minutes, or operas of more than ninety minutes), the per minute rates may need to be adjusted and used rather as a basis for discussion. Where a piano score is needed, this should be charged for appropriately. These guidelines may not be appropriate when negotiating a fee for works including substantial improvisatory elements.

Information for Composers

How does the commissioning process work?

“Commissioning” means a performer or ensemble asks a composer to write a new piece of work, for a fee. That fee either comes from the performers themselves or from a funding body, the main one in New Zealand being Creative New Zealand. Creative New Zealand usually prefer the performer(s) to apply on behalf of the composer, although it is possible to ‘self-commission’ a work. However, Creative New Zealand tend to prioritise applications that have a definite performance lined up. Obviously in the case of electroacoustic or multimedia work, the composer will need to ‘self-commission’.

How much should I charge for a commission?

There are no absolutes in the world of commissioning. In the end it is up to you to negotiate with the commissioning party a suitable fee that you find mutually acceptable. On the other hand, CANZ has put together a scale of fees that we think are appropriate for most New Zealand composers. This scale can be found on the right. Inexperienced composers should err towards the minimum side of this scale; more experienced, professional composers should be at the median or above. Payment is usually sent to the composer either as a lump sum at the beginning of the commission, or half upfront and the rest upon receipt of the finished score.

What sort of contract do I need for a commission?

Creative New Zealand require a basic written understanding between the composer and the commissioning body. If the commissioner is supplying their own funds, it’s still worthwhile drawing up a contract to avoid any potential nastiness further down the track.

CANZ has prepared a sample commissioning agreement, which may be adapted to your particular situation.

What are the rights of the performer in a commission?

These are negotiable, but the following performer rights are fairly standard in a commissioning contract:

  • the right to the first performance
  • the exclusive right to perform the work within a certain period (usually a year from the completion date)
  • the right to make the first commercial recording
  • the right to be credited as the commissioner on all editions of the score (Creative New Zealand like to be mentioned on the score and programmes as well, e.g. “This work was commissioned by the New Zealand Trio with funding from Creative New Zealand”)
  • the right to receive a copy of the score
  • the right to negotiate rental fees for performances of the work with the composer (or for smaller works, the right to waive rental fees)

What are the rights of the composer?

These are also negotiable, but usually include:

  • the right to retain copyright in the work
  • the right to retain ownership of the manuscript
  • the right to offer the work for publication

Is it true that Creative NZ does not fund commissions to university lecturers?

There is some truth to this, especially for full-time composition lecturers — Creative NZ do not want to be seen to be “double-dipping” (giving money to someone who is already receiving money for a project from another government-funded source, namely the university). But in all cases you should talk to the Music Adviser before submitting any application for funding, as you may well be eligible for some or all of the funding you require, or you may be able to apply for project-related expenses apart from salary. However, you are certainly eligible for funding if you can show that you will not be receiving money from the University during the period of composing, if you are part-time, or you are taking unpaid leave, for instance.

Is it true that Creative NZ does not fund commissions to students?

This is mostly true — if a piece is being submitted as part of University/school work, it generally is not able to be considered for Creative NZ funding. If you are unsure about the status of your project, discuss this with the Music Advisor.

How do I find a performer to commission me?

You can’t expect performers to just start playing your music overnight. It does, unfortunately, take some time and effort on your behalf.

First and foremost, performers need to know who you are. They are, generally speaking, unresponsive to unsolicited requests from composers they’ve never met, and certainly to composers whose music they’ve never heard. Therefore, the onus is on you as the composer to:

  1. put your music out there in front of performers
  2. to meet and connect with performers
  3. to try and make your music as easy as possible to get hold of.

There are good strategies you can employ to meet all three of these criteria. For instance:

  1. When you’re just starting out, do everything that comes your way, as you never know where it might lead.
  2. Always go to concerts of performers you like, and, where possible, get to know them; once you are comfortable with them in a social setting, it may not be so hard to ask whether they would like to perform a piece of yours
  3. Once you’ve had some pieces performed by ‘recognised’ performers, you can get your scores lodged at SOUNZ. If you have some technology skills, make yourself a website, where people can listen to and look at your scores.
  4. Submit your works for competitions and, most importantly, readings/workshops. These are regularly notified on the CANZ Noticeboard. Even if you don’t win anything, there is the possibility that your music will be put in front of people that may go on to perform your work.

When do I get paid?

The standard arrangement is to either be paid in full up front (i.e. before you begin work), or 50% up front, and 50% upon completion of score & parts. This is up to you to negotiate with the performer

Information for Commissioners

Why commission?

The first performance of a new work is an exciting event. The performer gets the pleasure of working closely with a composer on a new piece, and bringing into being something that didn’t exist before. For every piece you commission, you are also contributing to the general cultural environment and to the ongoing viability of a career path in composition, by allowing composers to make a living from their art in New Zealand.

How does the commissioning process work?

First approach the composer about the idea. At this stage, don’t promise him/her money if you don’t actually have it yet. Certainly you must not expect the composer to start if they do not have any money. If the composer is interested, and you are not supplying the money yourself, then make an application to the appropriate funding agency in close consultation with the composer, particularly when it comes to negotiating the commission fee. It is good to have a concert date in mind, but ensure that the distance between finding out the outcome of the funding application and the concert date is sufficiently large to ensure any possible extension on the due date required. Flexibility is a good asset to have as a commissioning performer. It is also important to talk to the Music Advisor before submitting the application, as they have many useful things to say. Assuming your application is successful, you can the tell the composer to start work. Composers often enjoy being able to show the performer small sections and even let the performer ‘workshop’ parts: this lets the performer feel more involved in the creation process, and often results in a better outcome. However, this is personal taste and does not work for everyone.

Where do I get money to pay a composer?

Most commissions do not come from the pockets of the performer, though that does occasionally occur, and New Zealand could do with more benefactors in the line of music commissioning. However, most money is sourced through a funding agency, most obviously Creative New Zealand, although one must go through an application process. Talk to the Music Advisor at Creative New Zealand about the possibilities of your being able to apply to them to commission a composer.

Where do I find a composer to commission?

Because of our impartiality, we are unable to recommend individual composers. However, we recommend you first look through the CANZ members page. You can also find other suitable New Zealand composers through the Centre for New Zealand Music.

I’ve heard that you can’t commission university lecturers/students. Is that true?

See above

I commissioned a composer to write a piece, but they haven’t written it! What do I do?

Composing is a difficult task, both emotionally and intellectually. Composers and commissioners often underestimate the amount of time it takes to write something. Usually sitting down and discussing outcomes with your composer in good faith should resolve any issues with outstanding work. If you have signed a contract with your composer, you may have legal recourse to recover any commission fees. CANZ can act as a mediator in cases where the two parties are unable to resolve their issues.