by Jeffrey and Todd Brabec

The composing fees paid to a feature film background composer vary considerably depending on the past success and stature of the composer; the amount of music needed in the film; the type of music required; the total budget for the film; the total music budget, including the cost for licensing preexisting outside songs or master recordings; whether the film producer is a major studio, a major independent, or a minor player in the film world; and the size of the orchestra needed to record the score.

Additional factors are whether the composer is contracting to bear all or most of the costs of music (a package) or only negotiating the composing fee; whether the film is intended for wide distribution or only a limited release; the standard fees paid by a particular studio versus the fees of other studios; and the skills of the individuals on both sides of the negotiation fenceā€”the studio and the composer's agent.

Depending on many of the above factors, composing fees can range from $20,000 for a lower-budget film to in excess of $1,000,000 for a big budget studio release using the services of a well known composer.

The following examples illustrate some variations of composer compensation:

Example 1.

  • $105,000 payable as follows:
  • $35,000 upon the signing of the contract or the commencement of spotting (i.e., the composer, director, producer, and music supervisor watch the film and discuss where the music should be).
  • $35,000 upon the commencement of the recording of the motion picture score.
  • $35,000 upon completion of all composer services as well as timely delivery of the master recording to the producer. The master recording has to be acceptable to the producer.
  • Example 2.

  • $300,000 payable as follows:
  • $100,000 upon commencement of the composer's services.
  • $100,000 upon spotting of the film.
  • $75,000 upon commencement of the recording of the master recording.
  • $25,000 upon completion of all composer services.
  • One of the considerations that dictates the amount of the fee negotiated in the composer-studio contract is whether the composer is assuming responsibility for all costs of his or her efforts (e.g., costs of musicians, recording, copying, orchestrators, instruments and instrument rentals, cartage, payroll and payroll taxes, etc.), or is solely contracting for composing and conducting services.

    If one is contracting for the whole package, all items that the composer is agreeing to furnish (as well as all exclusions) should be specifically spelled out in the contract in order to prevent situations where the composer ends up losing money because of unknown (at the time of signing) or significantly higher costs of some of the undertakings.

    Some obvious items that should be excluded include the licensing cost of any music not written by the composer, any reuse or residual payments, and any rescoring or rerecording costs required for creative reasons after the delivery of the master recording that are outside the control of the composer.

    © 2004 Jeff Brabec, Todd Brabec
    This article is based on information contained in the new, revised paperback edition of the book "Music, Money, And Success: The Insider's Guide To Making Money In The Music Industry" written by Jeffrey Brabec and Todd Brabec (Published by Schirmer Trade Books/Music Sales).