You’ve Been Hired to Create Original Music: How Much Do You Charge?

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Musical work for hireComposing for hire: the client, the money, and you

My wife works at a locally owned hair salon, and they recently put together a short, 90-second video that would act as the intro on their website. She mentioned that her boss was having trouble finding appropriate, licensable music online, so I offered to put something together and my wife’s boss – who is familiar with my music – accepted.

She gave me a copy of the video, some guidelines about what they were and weren’t looking for, and then I went to work. I spent a good number of hours working on it (which included a first draft that I eventually trashed) over the next week, and when I had something I thought was right, I sent it over. The director of the video responded with some comments, I made some adjustments, and shortly after, both he and the owner of the salon approved my song.

I found a local mixing/mastering guy on Craigslist, did some back-and-forth with him through email over the next few days while he was working his magic on the track, and after going through about five versions of the song, I got one that I was happy with. I sent the finished product over to my wife’s boss, they added it to the video, and everyone was happy.

Then came this part: “Send me a bill.”

Now: This is the first time I’d done exclusive work like this, and I realized I had no idea what to charge her. I eventually decided on a number that I thought was fair, and I had my wife run it by her. Turns out she had a somewhat different idea as to how much she wanted to pay. We came to a friendly agreement and I got paid, but it did make me feel a little awkward.

I realize in hindsight that I was not professional in the least about this, but I can chalk this up to it being my wife’s work, and I am friends with her boss as well. But I should have worked this out beforehand, probably with an hourly rate and whatnot. So that was my mistake. But mostly I felt bad because when it came time to ask to get paid, I didn’t really have anything to gauge this transaction against.

My pal Chris Robley was nice enough to ask some of his more professional (than me) musician pals their thoughts on the issue. I found this comment from Tim Huggins particularly insightful:

For me, it depends on many factors:

* Who is the client (i.e. how deep are their pockets)?

* How high-profile will the ad be? (Local television or radio for a month, then no more; or part of a national campaign?)

* Do they intend to repurpose the music (for other promos, their website, corporate parties, etc.)?

* And lastly, how involved was the project: was it several musicians, instruments in a “real” recording studio, or was it built with virtual instruments in something like Garageband?

Generally speaking, I charge about $75/hour for my time. I’ve done 30-second bits for as little as $300, to as much as $2k (Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, are examples).

In hindsight, $300 is way too low, unless they are a struggling mom/pop and you just want to help them out. Any client should be prepared to spend $500 on custom music as a baseline, then the more involved it gets, the more the price increases.

It’s such a nebulous business that there are no hard/fast rules for pricing. Too many moving parts involved.

That’s my $.02, anyway!

— Tim Huggins (bassist, composer, web-design wizard, and more)

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Do you have any experience with this that you’d like to share? There are obviously a lot of factors that can go into doing work like this, so I know there’s no definitive answer, but we’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue.

Let us know in the comments!

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  • Great article, and something I wrestle with a lot as well. I try to ask upfront what kind of budget they have for the music and work from there, but as you said every situation’s different. Generally speaking, I try to charge at least $150 per minute of completed music. This forces me to try to be streamlined in my work without having to worry about an hourly rate, but naturally the more involved the piece is or the potential use of it always needs to be considered too.

    Thanks for the article!

  • Does that $150 per minute of completed music cover various versions, revisions, etc? Or do you just charge them that once you've arrived at the final track?

    @ChrisRobley

    • I charge them the previously agreed upon amount when the final track's delivered. I've found (and really, I don't have a *ton* of experience doing this, but a good amount) that the most important thing before beginning to compose is having an ULTRA-clear picture of what they want the music to be/do. Lots of conversations and exchanging of reference songs before I start. That way it keeps revisions, etc. to a minimum, and I also have an idea upfront of how difficult it will be so i can hopefully charge appropriately. Fortunately, I haven't had to do much in the way of revisions, but I know that's inevitable at some point…but hopefully not until I'm charging a much higher per minute of music rate!

  • Great article! When it comes to delivering a finished composition, it is definitely a little more tricky than just doing straight session work, because you are responsible for the finished production as well as the creative content. I think the questions you raise at the end of your article are 100% right on. One additional suggestion would be to explain to the client that you prefer to do “project pricing” and ask them for a budget upfront. Once you have a sense of the budget and project scope, then you can decide if you want to take it on and start looking into different production options.

    I can speak from experience by saying that establishing a general ballpark budget upfront will inevitably save you a lot of time, and will also help you zone-in on the right solution for the client. You also avoid the possibility of losing the gig because you have no idea what the client wants to pay. With budget in hand you can then shop out the various parts (session players, studio, mixing, mastering, etc) and provide a super specific proposal / agreement that includes estimated delivery time, # of revisions, provisions for additional use etc.

    David Blacker
    Co-Founder AirGigs.com

  • Hey David,

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing.

    @ChrisRobley