What is involved in commissioning a piece from a composer?

September 6, 2016 at 11:06 PM · What legal details are involved in commissioning a piece from a composer? Matters such as copyright, performance right, etc. I have not seen this subject addressed in the usual music magazines, and I need more info before entering into a commission agreement. Thank you!

Replies (9)

September 6, 2016 at 11:10 PM · Speak to a lawyer. Really.

September 7, 2016 at 02:08 AM · If the composer has entered into commission agreements in the past, they might be willing to share one or more of their recent contracts with you. You could take that to a lawyer as a starting point.

September 7, 2016 at 02:35 PM · Do a Google Search with - legal commissioning music - , you will get more than you need to know.

September 10, 2016 at 12:44 AM · The first rule is that if you're a great violinist or violist, you must throw it back at them saying that it's too difficult (either technically or in concept), or, alternatively, if you're as great as Paganini, refuse to play it because it's not difficult enough. If you don't do any of these things, it proves you're run of the mill - unless you're Heifetz.

September 10, 2016 at 02:13 AM · Talking of Heifetz, the condition agreed when he commissioned the Walton was that no one else was to perform it for the first two years - which gives you some idea of the kind of condition you can stipulate. More recently Miranda Fulleylove commissioned a violin concerto from Sally Beamish; they may be forthcoming with info if you approach them, but I suspect there were no such conditions laid down - Sally Beamish is not William Walton.

Coming to think of it, at least one other commission has been mentioned on this site, I think by one of Laurie's interviewees.

September 10, 2016 at 01:01 PM · Don't forget the financial aspect! Very important.

Not quite the same, but still relevant - when I was a patent attorney, about the very first thing I'd discuss with a new client would be the fee structure, the main reason being to prepare them for the forthcoming expense so they wouldn't get nasty surprises a year or so down the line.

September 11, 2016 at 04:19 AM · There are exclusive rights to the first performance(s) for a limited period (could be one or two years, for example), then completely separate to this are performance rights that any producing organization pays to a royalty collecting society (ASCAP etc.) whenever any protected music is played - when the commissioned work is played in concerts. It's the rights to the first performance that you'd be negotiating when commissioning a piece.

Typically an independent composer would retain the copyright to the completed work in the case of a commission (eventually with or without a publisher involved). You'd find plenty of short clauses online about composers retaining copyright in the rules to composer competitions.

September 12, 2016 at 10:11 AM · If the performer is someone like Heifetz, the exclusive rights may also be in the composer's interest - I mean, you don't want any old Tom Dick and Harry wrecking your baby's reputation before it's had a decent hearing at Heifetz's hands, do you?

One other commission I remember, with one party still alive: The Rodrigo cello concerto was commissioned by Julian Lloyd Webber.

September 12, 2016 at 11:57 AM · "A commission" could be anything from an informal verbal arrangement e.g.. "if you write me a piece I'll play it" to a fee with contract containing exclusive rights for performances and recordings. And everything in between. It depends on the stature of the two parties - John Rokos is right in saying that the higher the stature of the player then the more interesting it will become for the composer to grant exclusive rights.

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