Theatrical Sound Designers and Composers Association

So, you’ve been asked to create music for a production! Here are some things to consider as you plan your project and form an agreement with a producer.

The Scope and Expectations for Your Project

  • Who is determining the needs for the music, and who are your points of contact with the production?

    Director / Playwright / Producer / Sound Designer / Music Department Supervisor / Music Director / Production Manager

  • What do they need and how much of it?

    Transitional cues?

  • How will it be performed and/or recorded?

    Live musicians in the theater?
    Live musicians recorded?
    Virtual instruments?
    Actors in the play?

  • What are your deliverables?

    Score / sheet music?
    Demo recordings?
    Recordings for production?

  • Timeline / deadlines / process

    What are the dates of production?
    When is your music due?
    What are expectations for revisions?
    When will the music be recorded?

Your Compensation as a Composer (Independent of Sound Design)

Your fee as a composer should be at least comparable to other creative team members in the production, and should also account for the quantity of music you are creating. This may sound obvious, but in many cases, the composer is paid a fraction of what other designers are paid (sound, costume, scenery, lights, projections). It is important to our future as music creators that this job is understood and valued as a unique and full artistic practice.

Sometimes a theatre’s budget for a show, a theatre’s budgeting history, or a late-breaking need for a composer prevents you from negotiating a fee that is appropriate. In these cases, we urge composers (and their representatives) to speak to theatres in terms of parity with other design elements, attempting to negotiate for the best terms possible under those specific circumstances, and advocating for theatres to budget more proactively for music in the future.

  • Your Production & Recording Expenses

    Hiring musicians
    Recording studio
    Recording engineer
    Editing / Mixing / Mastering
    Electronic Music Production
    Rental of Personal Instruments or Equipment for Rehearsal and/or Performances
    Project Studio Expenses – If you are working with samples, software virtual instruments, and your own equipment, you may want to charge for that work to cover your production costs. This could be done hourly or as a kit fee (i.e. charging for the use of your own equipment).

    Other Professions in the Music Department

    Conductor / Music Director
    Vocal or Instrumental Coaches
    Arranger, Orchestrator
    Music Prep / Copyist
    Music Contractor (Hiring musicians)

Collaborating with other music professionals is often necessary for the complete production of an original score.
We urge you to advocate for appropriate personnel when the project calls for it.

You may be wearing many hats in addition to composing, but it’s important to name them in determining your scope of work.  If you do take on multiple roles in the music department, like orchestrator, music director, etc, please don’t undervalue this work. It has value. The Production (producers, director, production manager) should be made aware of all the roles you are fulfilling. We want an ongoing conversation about the value of these contributions and how they should be addressed in future budgets.

It’s important to remember that developing a team of collaborators can not only serve you well for the project, but can also establish valuable relationships which you may draw upon in the future.

Your Rights to Your Music (copyright, publishing, etc.)

Unless the producer is offering you a work for hire agreement, (i.e. a buyout for a much higher amount), make sure your agreement explicitly specifies that you own your work. At some point, you may decide to seek publishing or self publish, and more on this topic will be forthcoming in other articles.

In the meantime:
US copyright law is in your favor here; the default posture of the law is that copyright belongs to the creator, even if that copyright isn’t registered.
See for more detail on copyright and publication.

Learn more about PRO (Performance Rights Organizations) options:

Reach out to us!

These guidelines are a point of departure. Every situation is unique.
The Works Practices Committee loves helping members navigate these complexities.
TSDCA is continually discussing how to support each other and uphold the value of music.

Please feel free to reach out to with the subject line “Composition Guidelines”.

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