Theatrical Sound Designers and Composers Association

Created by the TSDCA Work Practices Committee – update 5/27/20

Production Logistics & Building A Creative Team

You may be a composer writing for the theater. You may be a musical theater composer scoring a play. You may be a sound designer who is also composing music for a project. This is a guide to help you plan proactively for the essential collaborative discussions with your producer about process, business, and production logistics. We hope this is also a useful reference for producers, directors, and anyone who is interested in using original music in a theatrical production.

Identify the scope and expectations for your project:

  • Who determines the needs and artistic vision for how music will function in this project? (This could include the Producer, Director, Choreographer, Playwright, Sound Designer, Music Director)
  • What music is needed, what kind, and how much of it? 
      • Songs?
      • Underscore?
        • For 15% of the show? Half of the show? Most of the show?
      • Transition cues? 
        • How many transitions are called for in the script?
        • How will the director approach these transitions?
      • Dance?
  • Who coordinates production logistics? (This can include Music Supervisor, Production Manager, General Manager, Casting Director, Sound Supervisor)
    • Understand, and be conscious of, the producing culture of the theater. This will affect how you will be building your team. Be sensitive to who has decision making prerogative over which issues. 
  • As early in the process as possible, request a meeting with decision-makers in the artistic and production departments* to collaboratively determine how the creative needs of the show and the logistics (ie. budget, schedule, staffing) will match up. The next sections will help you identify the details that would be relevant and important to confirm at this early meeting. 

*Typically, the director and production manager would be the key people to have this conversation with, but each project is different and so it may be important to also include the producer, sound designer, and/or choreographer.


Determine how music will be performed, and/or recorded:

  • Performed by live musicians in the theater?  *(i.e. on Broadway, Local 802 requires song and dance to be accompanied by live musicians).
      • Performed by whom? 
        • Professional musicians
        • Actors
          • Singing
          • Playing an instrument
          • What is the policy for subs and understudies?
        • Where will the musicians perform? 
          • Orchestra pit
          • Onstage
          • Somewhere else
        • What instruments/equipment need to be sourced and how will they be maintained? 
          • Rentals / Purchases
          • Storage
          • Cartage
          • Maintenance
            • Setups
            • Tuning
            • Perishables
  • Will any or all of the music be recorded?
      • Live musicians in a recording studio
      • Virtual instruments (ie. String, or drum samples)
      • Electronic instruments or synthesizers

What materials need to be delivered and who is responsible for each:

  • Sheet music
    • Full Score 
    • Copied Parts
  • Demo recordings (for the director to hear, approve and/or use in rehearsal)
  • Rehearsal recordings (for actors to learn music)
  • Final recordings to be used as cues in the production

Determine the staffing structure needed for the music department:

  • Supervisor / Head of Department
  • Musicians 
  • Conductor / Music Director 
  • Vocal or Instrumental Coach
  • Music Preparation
    • Arranger
    • Orchestrator
    • Copyist
    • Librarian
  • Music Contractor / Coordinator 

Collaborating with other music professionals is often necessary for the complete production of an original score. We urge you to advocate that the theater hire appropriate personnel to meet the particular needs of each project.

You may be wearing other 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. The producers, director, production manager should always be made aware of all the roles you are fulfilling. This protects you and is important for effective production coordination.

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.   

Many producers have agreements with the American Federation of Musicians. This will influence the contracting of music personnel and your budgeting process.  It’s important to understand the jurisdiction in which you are producing music.

Outline the schedule for this project:

  • What are the rehearsal needs?
    • How and when will music be incorporated into the actors’ rehearsal process?
    • How and when will the musicians rehearse?
    • Rehearsal space, instruments, music stands, or other equipment
  • What are the expectations for your time in residency?
    • Will you be in rehearsal? How frequently?
    • Will there be any remote collaboration and what tools / methods are needed? (Zoom / Skype, Source-Connect, File sharing)
  • What are the important dates and deadlines for:
      • Meetings
      • Rehearsals
      • Recording sessions
      • Tech / Previews
      • Performances
  • How do you decide the best time to record your music for the production?* 
      • Before tech? After dress rehearsal? After a few previews?
      • What are reasonable expectations for changes / revisions? 
      • At what points in the process are these changes possible?
      • When will the show be frozen?  

*This is a whole discussion topic and one of the most interesting areas of strategic thinking re: budgets and how you’re going to produce your music. The goal is to give yourself the tools to create the highest-caliber final product while understanding that creating theater inherently involves making regular changes. Recording forces the creative team to commit to a final draft of the music. Creative approaches to writing, editing, sampling may give you more tools to make changes even after recording sessions have taken place.

Outline your production & recording needs:

  • Recording studio
  • Recording engineer
  • Music Editing  
  • Mixing and Mastering
  • Electronic Music Production / Programmers
  • 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).

Compensation: Music Composition v. Music Production

    • Music Composition. The melody, harmony, and rhythm you write has fundamental value. Remember to consider this when negotiating:
      • Up front fee (commission)
      • Back end / box office royalty
      • Your Publishing Rights (keep them!)
    • Music Production. In the theater industry, you will often be asked to produce recordings of your own music. The labor costs needed to produce any deliverables (score, demos, recordings, musician performances – including your own!) are often standardized costs that can be itemized in a budget.
    • Music Supervision. The head of the music department is a management role, and compensation for this work should be considered as well. 

*Value. Your work as a composer has great value in a production. Your compensation should be at least comparable to the other members of the creative team, and should also reflect 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). An individual composer may choose to subsidize their own time and effort. Nevertheless, whenever you undervalue the work, you put downward pressure on the wages of the entire music community. It is important to our livelihood as music creators that this job is understood and valued as a unique and comprehensive artistic endeavor. 

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 and the publishing rights to your work.
  • More detailed information on the nuances of ownership, publishing, and rights will be in forthcoming articles. In the meantime:
  • It is the producer’s legal responsibility to have licenses for the work they are presenting. You may likely be asked to certify that your work is wholly original. If your project or composition has specific needs for other copyrighted material, this can be a significant issue and it’s important to address early on. Music supervisors and clearance lawyers are experts in this field. 
  • Read more about fees, negotiating contracts, and copyright, at New Music USA.

Reach out to us!

These guidelines are meant to help prepare for collaborative production planning. This is a living document. We are interested in your feedback. If you have perspectives on music for theater you would like to share, please join our conversation. Send an email to with the subject line “music.”

The TSDCA Works Practices Committee is committed to helping musicians, creators, and producers navigate these complexities. Please get in touch if we can help you with a particular question.