The commissioning process is rewarding for all parties involved. The performers and directors get to play new music written specifically for them. The commissioning party gets to be responsible for the birth of a new piece of music and they will write the dedication for all to see. The composer gets to share his inner most musical thoughts with everyone involved and gets to be a part of the development and musical journey of the performers, directors, commissioning party, and the audiences. It is a wonderful process that leads to meaningful connections and increased understanding.
Where to start?
Once you have decided that you would like to commission a work. Find a composer that fits your needs. Do research, listen to music from various composers, ask around, and contact different composers. You must know what type of group you will be asking the composer to write for. You will also need to have a price range in mind. Commissioning can be expensive, but can also be fairly inexpensive. Much of this depends on what you need, who writes for you, and the difficulty of the project.
What to expect?
Every composer is different and will have different procedures for the commissioning process, but you should expect some basic things.
1. Contract: After you have talked with the composer, the composer will usually write up a contract unless they have a standard one in place. The contract is meant to keep all matters out in the open so there are no surprises and all parties understand their end of the agreement.
2. Time frame: While the creative process can’t always be rushed, there must be deadlines, performances, and checks written.
3. Draft: At some point you will get a score and parts for reading purposes. Don’t expect all the bugs to be worked out at this point. Work with the composer without infringing on artistic freedom and help to clean up the score and refine the piece. Record all rehearsals and send them to the composer no matter how bad you think the group sounds. At this point, the group will probably not sound good, but this feedback will help the composer tremendously.
4. Clinic: Most composers will want to work with the piece before the premier. Invite them early enough that details can still be changed and worked out.
5. Premier: The composer will most likely want to be at the premier as well. Make sure to be gracious and include the composer in the concert. You have paid money for this, milk it for everything it is worth. Discuss both the piece and the composer as well as the commissioning process. The audience will get more out of the commission.
Rights of the commissioning party Vs. the composer.
Both parties have certain rights that should be outlined in the contract. These will differ from to composer and contract to contract. Some of the rights I assign are as follows:
- Commissioning Party: Has the right to the first performance and possibly a grace period in which no other group can be given the music. Has the right to a dedication on the score that will appear if published.
- Composer: All intellectual rights for the music belong to the composer. In other words, the piece belongs to the composer, not the commissioning party. The right to be creative without interference.
Now that you are ready!
You have found a composer you like, set a budget, and set any other guidelines you might need, it is time to contact the composer you wish to commission and begin the collaborative part of the process. Ask as many questions as you can and make sure to voice your concerns, needs, and opinions. Hold on, you are about to have a wonderful experience!