Commission New Music
“This is the kind of music I was meant to play.” – Kate Steinbeck, founder and director of Pan Harmonia
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- You are a soloist or a music director of an ensemble and you realize that playing Brahms and Beethoven is not going to set you apart from the crowd
- You are an artist in another field looking to complement your project and you know that canned music just doesn’t fit your creative vision
- You are a patron who wants to leave a lasting legacy through funding the creation of art but you have learned that navigating through arts organizations is daunting
You could search for new music on the internet, hoping to find something to align with your ideas, knowing full well that it will be like wearing second-hand clothes.
You could commission me to compose new music celebrating our place and moment in history.
Let’s start the conversation.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What does it mean to commission a composer?
It means to hire a composer to compose an original piece of music.
Why is it important to commission new music while there has been so much music written over the past centuries?
How is our generation to express itself and how is it to be remembered if all we do is rehash the past? Should contemporary builders limit themselves to copying Frank Lloyd Wright designs? Should filmmakers keep on remaking Charlie Chaplin silent movies? Should painters make copies of the Girl with a Pearl Earring? While the past artists gave us an understanding of our historical context and developed the tools and techniques of the craft, we, the contemporaries, have the duty to speak with our own voice to create the modern world around us and to interact with it.
Who can commission new music?
A soloist who wishes to expand the repertoire of his or her instrument and to add gravitas to their career. A music director who seeks new repertoire for his or her ensemble. An artist in another field who wishes to add a musical dimension to his or her project. A patron who seeks to build a personal legacy in supporting contemporary art. A sponsor who wishes to build awareness and clout for their brand among artists and their audience.
I have a general idea about the music I would like to commission but I’m not sure about the details yet. Should I contact you?
Yes, the sooner, the better. A seed of an idea can have powerful potential.
What are the telltale signs I should start thinking about commissioning new music?
You scour the internet for new music. You prepare transcriptions of music for your instrument because there isn’t enough repertoire for it. You formed an unusual music ensemble. You are preparing for a competition and can’t find the right piece to express your artistry. You want to separate yourself from the pack. You are bored with the existing repertoire. You are about to celebrate a milestone in your career. You want to honor someone important to you. You need a new challenge. You contemplate your accomplishments and legacy.
What will the new piece sound like?
I don’t know! Every piece of music is different. I compose each piece with a specific performer or occasion in mind. Before I start the work, I seek the input of the performer, I try to understand his or her personality, their artistic needs and career goals, and the specifics of their instrument. We can have a general idea about the final sound, but it will most likely be a surprise for both of us. An exciting surprise.
I see that you have composed in several different styles in the past. What is your current aesthetic?
My musical interests are wide and varied. I like to experiment. I like to create new sonic environments. My new composition is not likely to sound like one I wrote five years ago. At the same time, there are certain tools in my creative toolbox I enjoy revisiting.
I want to commission music for my instrument but it doesn’t look like you have written for it before. Would you still be interested?
How do you feel about performers taking liberties in interpreting your music?
My scores are very detailed and thoroughly calculated. However, I have heard performances of my music in which soloists brought to the surface sonic layers I was not aware of before. Gifted professional players always breathe in new life into the blueprint of the score. It is my hope that my music allows each musician to shine and to add their voice to the notation.
What is your working style?
My working style involves long term planning, pacing myself through various projects, and creating an emotional and physical environment conducive to the optimal intellectual and artistic output. I work during the day and am protective about my schedule and creative space. I work deliberately and methodically. The art of music composition is a strenuous intellectual process requiring maximum concentration and clarity of mind. When the circumstances are right, I often experience flashes of unexplained insight outside of my working studio and have to notate new ideas on scraps of paper or an audio recorder. Music is a mysterious medium requiring patience, humility, and readiness.
How long will it take for you to compose the music?
It depends on the complexity and length of the piece, as well as external circumstances and the current projects I am working on. I recommend contacting me at least several months in advance. It is not unheard of to plan projects several years in advance.
I want to commission you but I want you to audition first by composing a trial piece for me. Can you do that?
No. If you are reading this section, it is because you are most likely drawn to my music already. There are plenty of examples of music I have written in various styles for you to imagine what I am capable of.
What does the commissioning contract specify?
It specifies the scope of the composition, the time allotted for preparation of the score and parts, the terms of the payment, the authorship and publishing rights, the rights to the premiere, subsequent performances, and recording.
How is the commissioning party or the patron recognized in the finished composition?
The names of the commissioning party or the patron (or both) are permanently engraved into the score’s opening page in the dedication section and in the music program notes, with a phrase such as: “For Jane Smith”, or “Commissioned by ABC Foundation”, or “In Celebration of the Important Event”. These inscriptions communicate to the performers and the audience who is to be recognized for the existence of the musical work, thus creating a lasting cultural and historic legacy.
What are the legal prerequisites in setting text to music?
The publisher must grant the composer a right to do so, in writing.
How much does it cost to commission new music?
It depends on the complexity and length of the music commissioned. Please contact me with your ideas and I will give you a general estimate of time and cost involved.
Where can I find funding for a commissioning project?
It varies from country to country, but within the United States, there are arts organizations that provide grants for various commissioning projects. It has been my experience that such grants come with many prerequisites and are limited to specific ideological or cultural topics. They tend to require much time and paperwork in the application process, but they are obtainable. Private funding, whether through individuals or corporations, tends to be quicker and less constrained. It allows the general public a more direct link to the creative process and a tangible reward for the local community. Another idea is a consortium of soloists or ensembles which share costs of the commission between all members, thus lowering the costs to the individual. If you are a soloist who bases a large portion of your career on contemporary music, it is my opinion that you should structure your budget in such a way, that alongside your instrument and travel expenses, you designate a portion each year to new commissions.
I am a patron and do not have a specific project in mind. Can I still support the creation of your music?
Of course. You can be the sole or partial patron of my current projects that seek funding. This can be done publicly or anonymously. Please contact me about the details.
Can I use your existing music in my project?
All uses of my existing music in any project, whether for profit or without profit, require licensing. You can purchase a license by contacting me directly.
I don’t have any money to pay you. Can I still commission a piece?
At this point in my career I don’t entertain free projects. I value my time and my expertise too much to give it away at no cost. If you seek free labor, you should approach a student or an amateur composer.