Commission an Original Work

How Commissioning Works

Anyone can commission a new work of musical art. Commissioning is simply a fancy word for a very simple transaction: you pay a composer to create something new and original, according to certain specifications (more on that later). 

  

Why do people commission new music? 

  

The specific reasons are as individual as each commissioner, but common reasons include…


  • To have fresh, new and exciting repertoire to perform. (A common motivator for conductors, performers, and ensembles.) 
  • To celebrate a particular event (anniversary, festival, inauguration, etc.).
  • To offer a unique gift to a loved one—maybe a partner, a family member, or someone you highly regard. 
  • To support the work of a living composer, and gain recognition for it. (The commissioner’s name is forever immortalized in the written score.) 
  • To be a part of the process of creating new musical art.  

As commissioner, you can specify certain aspects of the work, such as...

Instrumentation

The specific instrumentation is the most common stipulation of a commission, especially when a particular ensemble will premiere the work.

Length

Specifying the length of the work (in minutes) helps manage expectations on both sides. A larger piece is more work to compose. Moreover the performers require more resources, planning, and rehearsal time to perform the piece. The length is almost always stipulated in the contract.

Difficulty Level

This may come into play when writing music for young ensembles. The piece must be playable by the group. On the other side of the spectrum, a world-class virtuoso may want something that showcases her remarkable abilities.

Character of Work

Should the piece be lyrical and beautiful… exciting and energetic… rhythmic and groovy? Are you envisioning something introspective and meditative... or something colorful and extroverted? For example, when I originally wrote Huapango de los Muertos, the commissioner wanted a more upbeat and energetic piece to balance out a program full of beautiful, lyrical music. If you have a preference, this kind of general description still leaves plenty of room for creativity.

Type of Work

A commissioner might want a fanfare, dance, concerto, or something else altogether. If it is important to you that the music be appropriate for a specific type of event (say an inauguration, or wedding anniversary), that can be communicated in general terms.

Subject Matter

To some commissioners, depending on the project, it is important that the work deal with a particular theme or subject matter. Any kind of theme can serve as inspiration for generating musical ideas, but it should be something the composer feels inspired by. This still leaves a lot of room for interpretation, but will certainly influence the work and the titling of it.

These kinds of specifications still leave a lot of room for the composer to produce something creative and original without feeling “stifled.” In fact, I can attest that I actually find it easier to compose and generate ideas when there are certain boundaries in place. They help narrow down the infinite range of possibilities into… well, at least a smaller set of infinite possibilities!

What First-Time Commissioners Should Understand...

Intellectual Property

It's important to understand that commissioning a piece of music does not grant ownership of the work to the commissioner. It remains the intellectual property of the composer. The composer, therefore, retains all rights to the music produced under the commission, including copyright, publishing rights, performance rights, synchronization rights, mechanical rights, etc.

In the commercial world (film or advertising, for example), a composer often sells the copyright to the client for an extra fee, which is bundled together in the project cost, and is known as a "work for hire." But in the classical world (the world of artists rather than artisans), the composer retains all rights. A commissioning contract will, however, typically grant performing rights to the commissioner (ability to perform a work publicly) without paying anything extra to the composer. If the commissioning ensemble wishes to record the work, there will be a provision for a mechanical license, with royalties to be paid based on sales or number of copies produced.


Other rights (such as synchronization rights, which is attaching music to film/video) are negotiated on a case-per-case basis depending on the needs of the commissioner.  


Sheet Music vs. Sound Recording or Live Performance

Unlike most commercial music projects (which is a package deal that includes production), the deliverable product of a classical commission is ultimately sheet music, not a sound recording (though a computer-generated demo is typically included to aid the musicians in learning the piece). For that reason, commissioners tend to be soloists or ensemble directors.


However, anyone can commission a new musical work of art, and if you’d like to have a private performance or sound recording of the work you’ve commissioned, that can certainly be arranged for an extra cost. Obviously, the larger the ensemble, the greater the costs and logistics involved. It can be something as simple as a vocalist or solo instrument with piano accompaniment at a private party. Or (if you're really loaded!), hiring a full professional symphony orchestra and a venue large enough to hold them.


Finding Resources

For the particularly patient and methodical, there are a handful of organizations that offer grants for commissioning projects, particularly those with community involvement, and particularly for under-served communities. But what many organizations are doing now is organizing commissioning groups, or consortiums, to help break up the cost of commissioning and spread the cost around, making it more accessible to each member. Each member of the commissioning consortium will receive recognition in the score and be granted exclusive performing rights for a certain period of time.

What You Can Expect By Working With Me

  1. Professionalism and “good vibes” from beginning to end. I’m a big believer in karma, so I try to maintain positive, healthy relationships with everyone I meet. 

  2. Communication. Progress on the work probably won't be "linear." I usually have several projects going on, and I work on each as inspiration hits. Days or weeks may go by with little to report on, then there will be a sudden explosion of progress. I'll keep you informed of the state of the work.
  3. Commissions completed on time. If there is a hard deadline, I will do whatever it takes to meet it. If I don’t think I can meet your deadline, I will tell you before we even sign the agreement. 
  4. High artistic standards. It is a matter of personal pride to do my absolute best on every composition, and to treat each work as if it were going to be my best work yet. 

What Other Commissioners Have To Say...

"What an amazing, beautiful piece!"

We recently recorded Aaron Stanley's Metamorphosis that he composed for my group, Imbroglio Sextet. What an amazing, beautiful piece! It's an extremely musically moving work, and the entire group really loved performing it! I truly enjoy working with Aaron. He is very professional, yet approachable.

Dr. Cara Pollard

Trumpeter & Director of Imbroglio Sextet

"...such a fun and exciting work..."

Aaron is an incredible composer and musician. When I asked him about writing a piece for me, we setup a phone call where we discussed what I wanted out of the work and he definitely delivered! Huapango de los Muertos is such a fun and exciting work and was the perfect complement to my program!  Premiering Aaron’s Huapango at the International Trombone Festival was a great experience!  I loved playing and learning it, and the audience loved hearing it!  I’m looking forward to playing it again on my next faculty recital. I would recommend Aaron without hesitation for any project, and am looking forward to commissioning other works from him soon!

Dr. William Haugeberg

Trombonist & Assistant Professor at University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley

How Do We Get Started?

  1. If you'd like to explore the possibility of commissioning an original piece from me, it all starts with a simple conversation. We can consult via telephone, Zoom, or in person.  You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions, get my input and suggestions, and communicate everything that’s important to you.

  2. Once we come to a determination of the scope and parameters of the commission, we will start talking price and budget. It's not possible for me to publish a fixed price for my work because every project is different and has its own considerations. If you have a particular budget in mind, I'd be happy to consider it and present options that work with your budget. 
  3. Once we decide to move forward (it is a joint decision), we will also agree on a time frame to start, as well as a deadline, which will be written into the contract. 
  4. For institutions, half of the commissioning fee will be due upon signing of the agreement (which puts the agreement into effect), while the other half will be due upon delivery. For individuals, we can work out payment options that work for you.
  5. I will keep you apprised of my progress throughout. Keep in mind progress will probably not be “linear” and continuous, due to other commitments and when inspiration strikes, but it will be completed on time. 

What do you have in mind? Let's talk about it.

Please fill out the form below, and within a couple of days, I will be in touch with you to set up a time to talk...