Earning a Living

-Income streams -Holding down more than one job -Financial and practical organisation -Promoting Yourself -Getting Your Work Performed Live – The DIY Option -Publishing your Work -Protecting Yourself -Links and Resources

Income streams

###Commissions Commissions are the most straight-forward way for a composer to earn money – an organisation or an individual pays you a fee to write a work for them. However, commissions are also hard to come by. As an established composer, you might be approached by festivals, ensembles or orchestras already familiar with your work, to compose a new piece in exchange for a negotiable amount of money. As an emerging composer, your best chance of receiving a commission might be through a commissioning scheme from an arts organisation, like the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Composers programme. Private individuals as well as patrons might also commission you to write a work, often to mark a special occasion in their lives. Whilst commissions are a very convenient source of income, do bear in mind that they might also restrict your artistic freedom, as commissioners often ask the composer to write for specific instrumentation or stick to a fixed duration plus the work will have to be delivered by a specified date.

While commission fees from commissioning schemes are usually fixed amounts (e.g. RPS’s Young Composer scheme awards £3,000), commission fees from festival, ensembles or orchestras can be negotiated depending on the scale and duration of the new work. Do ask peers and people in your network about their experience of being commissioned, to get an idea of fee levels. You could also have a look at the Commission Fee Survey which was carried out by BASCA, the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors. The survey is not a guide to what fee you should charge but rather a summary of what composers charged on average, in the period 2006 to 2011.


Composer residencies are hosted by a range of organisations, from prestigious venues and festivals (Wigmore Hall and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival) to orchestras (London Chamber Orchestra) and museums (Handel House). As with commissions, established composers might be invited to be composers-in-residence, but there are also plenty of opportunities out there for emerging composers, including Sound and Music’s Embedded scheme, which pairs composers with a range of arts and non-arts organisations. In addition to writing a work for the host organisation, composers-in-residence might also be asked to give workshops and talks or get involved in the organisation’s learning and participation work. Fees for residencies vary depending on the level of the composer’s involvement.

Bursaries and development awards/grants Bursaries and development awards/grants give emerging composers the chance to develop their skills while receiving financial support. For the larger bursaries and awards like the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Awards for Artists and the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Elgar Bursary, you usually have to be nominated by a third party, but other schemes including the PRS for Music Foundation/Bliss Trust’s Composer Bursary and the Help Musicians UK’s Emerging Artist Fund are open to emerging composers (and musicians in case of the latter). PRS for Music have also launched a scheme called the Steve Reid InNOVAtion Award, to support unsigned artists pushing musical boundaries through bursaries and mentorship

No matter what stage in your artistic development you’re at, your genre or the type of opportunity you’re looking to gain support for, there are a number of options available to you for funding. To help explore those options, sites like Help Musicians and the Arts Council aim to make the process as simple as possible.


Royalties are payments made to composers for the use of their compositions. If music you have composed is performed or played in public, available on CD or per download, or broadcast on radio or television, you should receive royalties as you own the copyright to your compositions.

For composers two main copyrights apply – performing rights and mechanical rights. Royalties from performing rights are due when your work gets performed live in concert, played in public, or broadcast on radio/television. Royalties from mechanical rights are paid out when your work is commercially released by a record company. The term ‘mechanical’ is used because royalties are due each time a master recording is copied on to vinyl, cassette, CD or DVD - a mechanical process. Downloads also result in royalties from mechanical rights.

To receive royalties your work should be registered with a collection society. PRS for Music is the UK’s national collection society and incorporates the Performing Rights Society (PRS) as well as the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS). If you are a self-publishing composer you need to register your work with the PRS yourself and will receive royalties straight from them. If your music is published, the publisher will register your works and receive royalties on your behalf, but they will keep up to 50% of the royalties income. If your music is released by a commercial label, the label will register the work with the MCPS. A percentage of the royalties might then get passed on to you (unless you agreed to a buy-out fee), depending on the contract between you and the label.

In terms of finance, it is worth knowing that, while royalties should never be discounted, they are likely to be an additional rather than main income for you. For example, if a 10 min work you have composed is performed by an orchestra to an audience of about 1,000, the performing rights royalties will be around £10. When a track from your album, costing say £0.99, is downloaded, between 6 and 8% of the retail price, so 6 to 8 Pence, will be paid to the label, with a percentage of that amount (depending on the contract you have with the label) being paid on to you. Detailed information on how royalties are worked out can be found on the PRS for Music website.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning a few other rights which might be relevant to you at some stage in your career as a composer – Synchronisation royalties will be paid for the use of your music as a soundtrack for a film or advertisement; Print Rights royalties will apply when your work is published for sale as sheet music and the publisher pays you an agreed percentage of the retail price for each sold copy; Grand Rights are the rights to ‘dramatic’ performances, so opera and musical theatre.

Incidentally, performers of music also have copyright in their performances. Royalties from performers’ rights are collected through the PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited).

Hire/sale of scores

When performers are interested in performing one of your works or festival directors in programming it, they will usually ask for a score first, to be able to have a look at the work in detail. Once the decision that the work will indeed be performed has made, parts / full performing material will need to be supplied. If you are under contract with a sheet music publisher the publisher will produce and supply the material for you, and a percentage of the sale or hire of the score / parts will be passed on to you. If you are self-publishing you are responsible for the production and delivery of the material yourself. You can either print and bind your music yourself or pay a reprographics company to do it for you. It is then up to you whether you pass the material on to the performers for free, at cost price, or at price which includes a margin and will make you a profit.

Music as art objects

Selling your music as an art object depends on your practice. For example, if you write music by hand and the way your score looks is an essential aspect of your work then you might find people interested in buying your scores for their aesthetic visual value. Equally, if you document the process of you creating a work, for example in the form of a video diary, there might be a commercial value in the documentation.

Unpaid development opportunities

While remuneration for your work is important, emerging composers might want to consider taking advantage of development schemes which don’t pay a fee but will make you richer in terms of experience and contacts. Sound and Music’s Portfolio scheme gives emerging composers the chance to create new work with and for some of the UK’s leading ensembles and presenters of new music. Making Music’s Adopt a Composer scheme pairs amateur choirs, orchestras, and ensembles with a composer for one year, while the London Symphony Orchestra’s Panufnik Young Composers scheme offers six emerging composers each year the opportunity to write for a world-class symphony orchestra.

##Holding down more than one job

When you start out as a composer, it will, in all likelihood, be difficult to live off the earnings from your composing work alone. This means you will need to find additional sources of income. Many composers have a second job throughout their career, as instrumental teachers, university lecturers, arts administrators, performing musicians, or in a non-arts environment.

The big advantage of having an alternative source of income is that it takes the pressure off you financially. Your earnings as a composer will fluctuate considerably, so any additional income will cushion you when there is a lull in your composing income. The downside to holding down more than one job is that your focus can easily be diverted from your main interest – composing – to your secondary or even tertiary job. Being rigorously aware of how much time and energy you spend on each of your jobs will make it easier to prioritise different parts of your workload.

Whatever your additional jobs are ensure that you keep your different working identities separate. For example, if you are a composer who also writes programming software, make sure that you have separate and distinct websites – one for information on your composing activities and one for software programming work. It might seem time and cost saving to have just one website for both activities, but this could confuse the people interested in your programming work just as much as the people interested in your composing work, therefore making the site counterproductive.

‘Portfolio career’ is a current buzzword used to describe the work of musicians who combine composing, performing, curating, teaching, and recording, thereby attempting to cross-fertilise the different areas of their artistic work. While it might seem enticing to be a modern day Renaissance man (or woman), the drawback is the same as with any multiple job situation – you will have to juggle a myriad of tasks and might lose focus on what is most important to you. Also, while several roles enable you to have your fingers in several pies, a portfolio career does not necessarily translate into higher earnings. On the upside, if you are very organised and comfortable wearing different hats for different jobs, a portfolio career will help you get to know a wider range of people which might then result in new opportunities for your work as a composer.

Financial and practical organisation

If you receive one-off payments for your work as a composer, such as commissions, you are technically self-employed and many aspects of your working life will be comparable to those of self-employed workers in other industries. What is going to make you stand out as a composer is your artistic work but, to carve a long-term career out of composing, you need to be equally adept at the administrative and organisational side of working life.

As a self-employed worker, it is easy to get into a muddle financially, blurring private and professional expenses. To help you differentiate between the two do get a system in place for collecting receipts and keeping them safe, regularly make notes of cash expenses, and set up a separate bank account and debit card for your income and expenditure as a composer. Being aware of how much you earn and spend as a composer will help you plan your finances short and long term, while having all financial information up-to-date and in one place will help you enormously with the self-assessment tax return you will have to submit once a year.

One big challenge for professional composers is the balance between administrative/promotional work and creative work. Having systems in place will help you deal more efficiently with practical matters and allow you to spend more time composing. A dedicated workspace, not just for composing but also for administrative tasks, means you have everything you need in one place. A database for collecting and storing contacts and a file for archiving press cuttings and programmes are also essential items in the home office.

Lastly, as composing is your business, it might be useful to apply some standard business techniques like writing a mission statement and drawing up a 3 year, 5 year, or even 10 year plan. This will help you be clear about what you want to achieve, how and when by, as well as set specific aims and revisit those aims at regular intervals.

Promoting Yourself

  • Online presence
  • Printed and in person
  • Targeted activities
  • Writing about your work

When it comes to promotion it’s vital to define your target group. A general ‘getting the word out there’ approach might have some effect but asking yourself who you are promoting to, and tailoring your approach to that group or individual, will get you results much more quickly. Are you contacting an artistic director who you want to be commissioned by? Do you want to inspire musicians to perform your work? Are you reaching out to the general public to buy your recordings or tickets to your concert? Put yourself into their shoes to see what’s important to them, and write your promotional texts accordingly.

Research is another key element of successful promotion. Familiarise yourself with who’s who in the industry and what the activities of the organisations you potentially want to work with are. This kind of knowledge will enable you to have a much more meaningful exchange should you happen to be introduced to an artistic leader at a concert interval or when making a targeted approach to somebody in writing. Also, bear in mind that there are plenty of opportunities in Europe and the rest of the world, so do extend your research beyond the UK.

For effective promotion you need to have the right material. Take care to document performances of your work, by taking photos and making video or audio recordings. Also, remember to collect programmes, newspaper cuttings and brochures for each performance. Building an archive of relevant and interesting material from your performances will allow you to promote your work in a more colourful and effective way.

Online presence


In the digital age your website is your main calling card, so it’s important to get it just right. ‘Content management service’ providers, like WordPress and Drupal, let you set up and run a website for free. However, to give your site a professional look, it might be worth paying somebody to design and set it up for you. Once the site is up and running, you should be able to update and manage content yourself rather than having to depend on somebody else. Websites don’t have to be complicated to be effective; all a site needs to do is display information in a clear and easily accessible way.

Research other composers’ sites to find out what design you might like and decide which items you would like your website to feature. Biography, list of works and available recordings are essential, but a more substantial website will also feature sound bites from your works or links to audio platforms like Sound Cloud. Visuals like photos and videos are powerful promotional tools, as they can get a message across viscerally. A list of upcoming performances and premieres looks great, but do take care for it to be up-to-date at all times. A blog can give a great insight into your activities and artistic practice but, again, it’s important to update it regularly. If you have social media accounts remember to include the respective links on your website, to enable people to connect with you.

Social media

While social media can provide excellent platforms for promoting your work, there are also some pitfalls. Twitter followers and Facebook friends are likely to include friends/family as well as professional contacts, and it’s vital to remember that your tweets and posts will be seen by all. A funny story about how you had had a glass of wine or three too many at the weekend might seem harmless enough, but might be remembered by a professional contact if you miss a deadline a couple of weeks later. One way around this is to set up two different accounts or change your settings so that some posts can only be seen by a specific group of people.

Printed and in person


In the age of digital technology, physical objects like printed brochures and leaflets, which have to be passed on to or collected by people, are fast becoming less relevant tools of promotion. Business cards are the only exception to this, as they are a very useful way of distributing your contact and webpage details when meeting somebody in person. On occasions, printed flyers might be a good idea, especially for local promotion of specific events, but generally digital material is cheaper to create as well as more accessible to a wider geographical spread of people.

In person

Meeting somebody in person can be a powerful way of connecting. Go to as many performances, events and symposia as you can afford to and get talking with people around you. ‘Networking’ can sound daunting, so just think of it as getting to know people by having a friendly chat, rather than peddling your wares. Be curious about other people’s activities, listen just as much as you talk, and you might find that networking is a great way of sharing ideas, making friends and extending your professional network.

After having met somebody, it’s useful to add their contact details to your contact list, together with notes about how and where you met and what the other person’s interests/activities are. Should you be in touch with them again at some stage in the future, it will be useful to refer back to your prior contact.

Targeted activities

Speculative letters/e-mails

Writing a speculative letter/e-mail is the written equivalent of cold calling – you are contacting a person or an organisation you haven’t been in touch with before, with the aim of ‘selling’ them your work. First and foremost, research the organisation you are contacting to find out about their needs and interests, and establish who the decision maker is. This will ensure that your letter is relevant to the organisation and that it will be looked at by the right person. When writing the letter/e-mail, try and make it more personal by including references to the organisation’s activities. It is also useful to write about something current and specific (“My new work will be performed next week”) rather than about your work in general (“I’ve included my repertoire list”). Ending your letter with a specific proposal or request might also yield better results than a general sign-off. Don’t overwhelm the person you are writing to with too much information and material. Rather than e-mailing large sound files or documents send a ‘taster’ of your work. Once there’s interest you can always follow up by sending more material.


E-newsletters are a great and inexpensive way of keeping people informed of your activities. Make sure you include all essential facts (who, what, where, when) and links to relevant websites, enabling people to access more information or buy a ticket to your event. E-mail marketing companies like Your Mailing List Provider and Mail Chimp give you access to design templates, which will make your newsletter look more professional. You can also send and track e-shots through these companies and store your contact list online. Sending newsletters occasionally will be much more effective than sending them frequently, so sticking to maybe three or four editions a year might be best.

Writing about your work

Being able to write and talk about your work clearly and eloquently is essential to successful promotion. You will need this skill for a range of activities including contacting potential commissioners, making funding applications and writing programme notes.

For individual works think about: What is your idea and why is it exciting? Has something like this been done before? What are the forces and the duration? What, if any, tech equipment will be needed? For your general output think about: What aspect(s) of your work make you stand out? Aesthetically who are you closest to? What do you bring that is new and different? Do have a look at the work of other composers, to establish your place in market and, to use a business term, what your unique selling point (USP) is.

Writing about yourself can involve a lot of soul searching so do make time to draw up standard documents including a short (ca. 150 words) and long (no more than 500 words) biography and programme notes so that you have them ready upon request.

Getting Your Work Performed Live – The DIY (Do It Yourself) Option

  • Setting Up
  • After the Event
  • Finance

In an ideal world, festivals and ensembles will be knocking on your door, offering you performance and commission opportunities. However, for an emerging composer, things might be a little slow at first and you could consider a more proactive route to getting your work played live – create your own performance opportunities.

To create your own performance platform, you effectively take on the role of producer, bringing together all people and elements involved in an event and being in charge of the overall budget. Producing a project can be very time and energy consuming – all roads lead to you, so if there’s a problem people will come to you first – but it can also give you a fantastic and very useful insight into how different aspects of the music industry hang together.

Setting Up

To demonstrate how producing a project works, here is a practical example. You have written a fantastic piece of about 30 min duration, scored for voice, flute, electric guitar, percussion and electronics, and you would like to hear it performed. What do you do now?


Ask performers within your network if they might be interested in playing in the concert you’re setting up. Ideally, they will have a genuine interest in your work and are keen to perform it, as their enthusiasm will make your project go much more smoothly and bring more energy to it.

The musicians could be part of a pre-existing ensemble or you could assemble them especially for your concert.

Once you have established which musicians are going to be involved, you need to consider the basis on which you are going to collaborate. Are they college friends happy to play for free, to get another live performance in a professional setting under their belt? Or are they more seasoned musicians who will expect a fee? If they expect a fee, which level will it be at? And will there be fees for rehearsals as well as for the concert? If you don’t pay a fee to the musicians, will you reimburse their travel expenses? Any option is valid, as long as all parties are in agreement.

Don’t forget to think of special circumstances. Will more specialist percussion instruments have to be hired in? Will the percussionist provide his/her instruments free of charge? Will there be porterage? Equally, will the electronics person provide tech? Might he or she deserve a larger fee, as they will have to come earlier for set-up? If you are planning to record the concert for archive/promotional purposes are the musicians aware of this and have given their consent?

For clarity and because it is good practice you should draw up a written agreement. If you have assembled individual musicians for the project, you need to have an agreement with each of them. If you are working with a pre-existing ensemble you need to draw up only one agreement. The agreement can be in the form of an e-mail, outlining point by point everything you have agreed on.

Book / contract a venue

Your next challenge is to find a venue for your project. There is a range of ways of how to work together with a venue. In an ideal situation, a venue is interested in your project and offers you a guaranteed fee. Depending on the size of the fee, box office income might then be kept by the venue or split with you as the producer. If the venue is interested in your project but not able to support it financially through a fee, you might be offered the venue for free and then either split box office income with the venue or be allowed to keep it. Lastly, in a more traditional rental agreement, the venue might charge you a hire fee and you will keep all box office income.

As part of your negotiation with the venue, establish what else they might offer. Will your event be included in their marketing? Can people book tickets through the venue’s box office? Can you rehearse in the venue all day, before the concert? Might the venue be willing to let you rehearse in the venue on another day? Can the venue provide any tech, like amplification or a mixing desk, for free or at a charge? Regardless of type of collaboration, the venue will in all likelihood ask you to sign a contract about the arrangement. Do make sure you read it through carefully, to avoid any last minute surprises.

Curate the event

This is the fun part! Your work is 30 min in duration, which is not enough for a full concert, so you get to select other compositions, to complement your own work and complete the programme. Skilful curating is an art form in itself. Aim to give your work the right framework and to create a strong identity for the event as a whole, but bear in mind practicalities, too. There might be another composition which complements your own work perfectly, but if it is scored for clarinet, harp and piano (while your own work is for flute, voice, flute, electric guitar, percussion and electronics) your costs will soar.

Marketing and PR

Giving your event a strong visual image will help make marketing and PR activities more effective. You could ask a friend to design an image or use pre-existing photos to create a flyer, which can be distributed electronically. Ask the venue what their requirements are – some venues now only engage in digital marketing, while others still like printed flyers and posters and might ask you to supply them. Remember that all marketing needs to include your funder’s logo. Social media is another platform to promote your event. Make some noise on Facebook and Twitter and link in your social media activities with the venue’s.

It is worth e-mailing a press release to the arts desks of local and national newspapers (Guardian, Independent, Times, etc.) and magazines (The Wire, Time Out, etc.) and to individual journalists you might have in your network, to entice them to preview, review or list your event.

If you have set-up a large scale concert and feel there might be strong media potential you could consider hiring a PR specialist, who would use his/her long-standing connections to individual journalists to promote your event. PR specialists can make a real difference in terms of media attention but bear in mind that one day of PR work costs from £200 upwards.

Lastly, writing personal e-mails can be very effective. Draw up a wish list of people who you ideally would like to attend your event and write to them individually. The list could include friends and family as well as performers you would like to work with or artistic directors (obviously, this works better if you have had at least some minimal previous contact). Sending a personal invitation to individuals from the organisation funding your event is a must.

Create programme leaflet

A programme leaflet is an excellent way of providing your audience with further information. In addition to the list of works to be performed, you should include your biography (no more than one or two paragraph), your website address and possibly information about future events featuring your work. It might also be interesting to include programme notes for your work as well as the other works in the programme. A biography for the ensemble (or information about the individual musicians) is another important item. Lastly, don’t forget about your funders. As they made your event possible financially, it is vital to credit them for their support. Often funders would like to be credited in a specific way and with a specific logo, and it’s important to get the details right.

Schedule / timeline

Two documents might help with the practical organisation of your event – a time-line and a schedule. For your own purposes, right at the start of your project, you might like to draw up a time-line of what needs to be done when over the next couple of months. For example, while you need to establish conditions with the performers first, you will only be able to confirm and issue agreements some weeks later, once funding is in place. The time-line can also serve as a checklist for all tasks needing to be taken care of before the performance, so you won’t have any last-minute crises. Secondly, a schedule for the rehearsal and concert days will outline timings, venue addresses and order of works as well as mobile numbers for key people involved in the project and should be e-mailed to all parties a week or so in advance of the first rehearsal.


Any performance is an achievement – make the most of it. Ask friends to take photos at the rehearsals and performance, or to make a video or audio recording. This will enable you to send out materials to people who were interested but unable to come to the performance. Collect flyers, posters and brochures for your archive, and remember to print out listings and online material about your event before they get taken down.

After the Event

The most time-consuming part of the project is over, but some tasks still need doing to make the most out of your event.

Thank yous

Many people will have contributed to have made your event a success and each one of them deserves getting a thank-you note. In particular, remember to thank all of your project’s funders. Expressing your genuine gratitude will be very much appreciated by funding bodies and individual donors alike and might make it more likely for them to help out again in future. Thanking performers is also vital – they made your music come alive and will be the best advocates for your work.

Documentation and follow-up

If you were able to have a video or audio recording made of your event, make the most of it. Send links to material on Sound Cloud or your website to everybody who had expressed interest in attending your performance but wasn’t able to. Include photos and sound bites from the event in your next newsletter. When writing speculative letters remember to mention the performance and offer to supply the recordings.


Evaluation is the final part of your project. Ask yourself what went well and what you would do differently next time. If you received a grant from a funding body you will probably have to write an evaluation report, outlining successes and failures within your project and showing if the budget worked as proposed or if it panned out differently. Keep a record of your project evaluation in your archive and refer to it should you decide you enjoyed creating your own performance opportunity so much, you want to do it all over again.


Producing a project is a big responsibility because it means you are in charge of finance. In fact, managing the budget is the most important part of successful event production.

Draw up a Budget

Start drawing up the budget by listing all costs you established in the set-up as above. Use a spread sheet and list costs in blocks (production costs like venue and tech hire, performer costs like concert fees and travel, marketing costs, etc.). Remember to include a management fee for yourself in the project’s budget. It’s important to check if costs are including or excluding VAT or you might end up with unexpected extra outgoings. For example, a printer might quote you £100 for the printing of your flyers but not mention that this figure is exclusive of VAT and send you a total bill for £120 (£100 + 20% VAT).

Once you’ve established costs, have a look at income. This might be a fee the venue is paying you or projected box office income. With any estimated income (e.g. from ticket sales) take a conservative approach, as it will be better to end up with more rather than less income than you budgeted for. Once you’ve listed your expenditure and compared it to your income, you will, in all likelihood, end up with a shortfall, which means you will have to raise extra finance.

Finding additional funding

It takes tenacity but raising additional funding for your project is achievable. You could spread your net a little wider and try raising funds from several sources rather than one, to minimise the risk of not getting anything. Use the internet as well as your network to find out about grant giving trusts and foundations. Some foundations will only consider applications from organisations as opposed to individuals, but there are still plenty of opportunities out there. Once you have established you are eligible to apply, make sure you understand what the funder is looking for and what kinds of projects they normally support.

Arts Council England provides project funding through their Grants for the Arts scheme. From 1 July 2013, you can apply for grants up to £15,000 and will find out within 6 weeks if your application has been successful. Other sources you could consider are Sound and Music’s Composer Curator programme and the PRS for Music Foundation’s Funding for Individuals. If you are writing a new work for your event, you could also try the Britten-Pears Foundation’s New Music Commissions scheme. Some local authorities run grant programmes; sometimes those are only open to local voluntary organisations, but sometimes individuals can apply. Check DirectGov’s local authority grant finder for what is available in your area.

Individual giving and crowd funding can also be very useful ways of raising money for your event. You can set up a fundraising page for your project on sites like Crowdfunder, We Did This or Kickstarter. You could also ask friends, family and colleagues to make a small donation towards your project in person. Many small donations will add up to a very useful larger sum. However, if you know wealthy individuals within an interest in the arts and your music in particular it’s worth a try asking them to contribute a more substantial sum of money.

Corporate sponsorship is a possibility if your event has something to offer to a particular business. Some organisations are happy to be seen to be supporting the arts in general but are often after larger audiences so that the company’s branding or logo will be noticed by as many as possible. If your event has a particular theme, you might be able to get some money from a company with an obvious link to your theme, but again, this works best if you are able to offer substantial audience numbers.

Often it is also possible to raise in-kind support, which means that rather than offer cash organisations or individuals will donate equipment, let you use their facilities (e.g. a rehearsal venue), or provide a service (e.g. marketing) for free. All these have a financial value and show that others believe in your work and therefore, it is important to demonstrate all in-kind contributions in your budget, especially when making a application to a funding body.

Publishing your Work

  • Having your music published by a publisher
  • Having your recorded music released by a label
  • Releasing your recorded music yourself
  • Self-publishing your music

The term publishing means that a copyrighted work (such as book or a piece of music) is produced and distributed to the public. Sheet music publishing took off in the mid-18th century, when, in 1754, Bernhard Christoph Breitkopf and his son Johann Gottlob, who ran a book publishing company in Leipzig, decided to focus predominantly on sheet music. Since then many aspects of music publishing have changed. Digital technology means that works can now be sent out electronically (for example, in the form of a pdf document), prompting many composers to distribute their works themselves rather than via a publisher. There are still many traditional music sheet publishers (Schott, Peters, Faber, Boosey & Hawkes, etc), but in the more commercial sector, publishing companies no longer produce printed music. Instead, their main business is to promote compositions to film and television (with a view to selling lucrative licenses for synchronisation rights, which cover music being used as a soundtrack to advertisements, TV programmes, or films) and to recording artists.

You can find a directory of all UK music publishers on the Music Publishers Association’s website, where you can also see whether or not a publisher accepts unsolicited material.

Having your music published by a publisher

Traditionally, securing a contract with a publishing company was perceived to be the ultimate achievement for an emerging composer. While this might no longer be the case, there are certainly many advantages of having your work published by a publisher. A publisher will usually: edit, produce and print scores and parts for your music; hire and sell the scores and parts; register your work with PRS or other collection societies; promote your work nationally and internationally to performers, orchestras and record companies, using their well-established network of contacts; and provide general management as well as specific feedback. This means you can focus on what you like most and do best – composing. However, such luxury comes at a price. Most sheet music publishers will take 50% of all income derived from the composer’s work.

There are other aspects of having your music published by a publisher which you might see as disadvantages: having to transfer the rights to your work to the publisher; having less or no control over the price your scores/parts will be sold at; having less or no control over what your score looks like as publishers usually have a house style; and possibly being under pressure to take on commissions you feel might not be right for you.

If you would like to have your music published by a sheet music publisher, bear in mind that most composers don’t get signed on the spot. Do keep publishers informed of your activities, especially if you’ve had first signs of interest from them, and use recommendations from contacts in your networks to get through to key people.

Lastly, if you are in a position to have been offered a contract with a publishing house do get independent legal advice. You might be ecstatic about the chance of having your music published, but, especially with contract durations usually being three to five years, it is essential to get the conditions right or the relationship between you and your publishers might turn sour.

##Having your recorded music released by a label Just like a publisher, a label will offer you a whole package of services. This usually includes making a recording of your music (unless a pre-existing recording is used); editing the recording and producing a master; designing artwork for the cover; manufacturing CDs; distributing the recording in digital (download) and in physical form (CD) to suppliers nationally and international; registering the works on the recording with the collecting societies; and promoting the recording.

While having a recording of your music released by a label gives you major cudos and credibility as a composer, it might not generate substantial income. Depending on the label, you might be paid an upfront fee or you might only receive a percentage of the mechanical copyright royalties once your CD is on the shelves. Labels have substantial costs, including manufacturing the CDs as well as packing and distributing them, and some labels will propose a deal whereby royalties will only be paid to the composer once the costs have been recouped.

If you are keen to have your music released by a label, research which labels are closest to you aesthetically. There are many and different types out there, from British-only label NMC and electronic music specialist Warp to big classical companies which have a sideline in new music. If there is somebody in your network, who has had work released by a label you are interested in, quiz them on their experience and, if possible, ask for an introduction. Alternatively, give it a try with a speculative approach.

Releasing your recorded music yourself

If you don’t want to hold out for a contract from a record company, there are other ways of releasing your recorded music. If you have a good quality recording of one of your works and you have cleared the recording with the performers, you have the options of distributing the recording digitally or as a physical copy (i.e. CD).

To distribute your music digitally (for download or streaming) you will need to sign up with an ‘aggregator’, like AWAL (Artists without a Label). Aggregators are companies specialising in digital distribution and they will be the middleman between you and the big companies like Apple, Amazon or Spotify, which don’t accept direct requests from artists. You will need to sign a contract with the aggregator, which will then pass your music on to the bigger companies and take either an upfront fee or take a percentage of the income derived from your music. One advantage of publishing your recorded music that way is that, unlike record labels, aggregators do not ask you to sign over any of your rights. Lists of approved aggregators for various companies (iTunes, Spotify,etc.) can easily be found online.

Distributing your music on CD is a little more challenging, as most distribution companies will only deal with labels as opposed to individual artists, which means you will need to set up your own label. A useful guide of How to Start a Record Label can be found on Association of Independent Music (AIM) website. Setting up an independent label is a useful way of making your music available in recorded version, but, because of the cost of having CDs replicated and physically distributed as well as the label set-up costs, do expect to break even at best rather than make a profit.

There is, of course, also the option of sharing your music with other for free, rather than making it available for sale. At the beginning of your career, it might be more useful to put (after having cleared it with the performers) at least a selection of recordings of your work on a digital platform like SoundCloud. This will allow interested performers and promoters to explore your music anonymously (they don’t have to ask you for it) and without having to pay for it, and might generate more performance opportunities and therefore more income for you in the long run.

Self-publishing your music

Music is published as soon as it is in the public domain. This means if you have produced a score and have put a downloadable pdf of it on your website, you have published your work. Self-publishing can be hard work – you will need to complete the tasks a publisher would do for you – but you will complete control over your work and you will keep all income.

The two main factors in successful self-publishing are the ability to produce good quality performing materials (to keep performers happy) and the ability to spread the word about your music to key people in the industry (to create performance opportunities).

The most time-consuming part of self-publishing is theproduction of scores and parts, as you will have to copy, print and bind the material yourself. If you do so at home it would be prudent to invest in a quality binding machine. If you are still at college (or teaching there) you might be able to use their reprographics department. Other organisations like the Scottish Music Information Centre or Composers Edition will produce material for you, but this will incur upfront costs and there are conditions for joining. In general, the workload for producing chamber music material yourself should be manageable; for larger scale works you could use a music reprographics company (e.g. Old Acres) and pass the costs on to the performers.

You might compose the most interesting and innovative music but unless you make performers and promoters aware of your work, it will not get performed. Therefore, promotional work should be a regular feature in your schedule. Take time to update all online information and not only write but follow up on correspondence. From writing speculative letters via Facebook promotions to sending out e-newsletter, there is much you can do to make yourself known amongst key people in the industry.

The biggest challenge for you as a self-publishing composer is probably the myriad of tasks you will have to be on top of. At any one time, you might have to complete your composition to a deadline, while taking care of financial administration, copying and binding a score on request, registering a new work with PRS, and preparing and sending a newsletter about an upcoming première. However, ring-fencing time for composing and honing your time-management skills will ensure that your work as a self-publishing composer will be successful and rewarding.

Protecting Yourself

As an emerging composer, you will frequently be in uncharted waters. To avoid disadvantageous conditions, always arm yourself with as much information as possible. If no contract has been offered ask the performers or promoters how your work will be used (will it simply be performed live, will it be recorded, are there plans for a recording to be put online?) so that you have a chance to have your say and to make the most of what is happening. If a contract is on the table ask friends and colleagues from your network about their experiences in similar situation and research online to find out about rates and conditions.

On occasions you might like to get independent advice, especially when it comes to fees and contracts. Specialist music lawyers are an option, but a less expensive alternative could be to join a trade association like The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) or the Musicians Union (MU). A BASCA professional membership costs £165 a year and includes specific legal advice, a tax helpline, and advice on professional matters from experienced composers from the organisation’s board. An MU membership costs £183 a year and includes legal assistance, career and business advice, and a contract advisory service. An ISM membership costs £164 a year legal support, tax support and professional development.

With every new project it’s a good idea to revisit the aims you have set yourself, to establish how the project fits in with what you are trying to achieve. Be conscious of the value of your work and don’t give something away for free unless you are clear about your reasons for doing so. This is not to say that you shouldn’t take on a project unless you get paid hard cash. There are other things you can get out of a project, such as documentation or promotion, which have their own value. You might, for example, not receive a fee for a new work you have composed, but the ensemble is giving your work exposure by performing it and they are making a recording of it, which you will be able to use for promotional purposes.

Substantial fluctuation in income is a reality for the majority of composers. You might get a big commission one year but then you go through a very dry spell for another year, which can be deeply frustrating. There are other aspects of your professional life which can be a struggle. Being a composer is a fantastic job when things go well but it can also make you feel exposed and vulnerable. Artists tend – almost by definition – to be more sensitive than the average person, yet they are exposed to direct and often public criticism. You might have slaved over a composition for months and taken great pride in its first public performance, but if a critic finds fault with it very publicly, it can be tough to deal with. Additionally, writing music is quite a solitary process, which can leave you feeling isolated.

None of this should put you off from being a composer. Just be prepared for those bad patches you will, as in any job, almost inevitably go through. To stave off unhealthily negative thoughts and feelings, make sure you set up a support system you can fall back on. You could form a collective with other artists, set up regular get-togethers for like-minded composers and performers, join an online forum, or make a pact with a freelance friend (maybe from a completely different profession) to meet up once a month to talk about how things are going.

A closing thought by John Cage: Ideas are one thing but what happens is another. There can be many interpretations of this quote, but for the purpose of this toolkit, the interpretation could be: As composers you have amazing, exhilarating ideas, but what happens with your ideas depends on your other, secondary skill set. Just how well you learn to finance, promote, organise, and protect yourself determines how professional and successful a composer you will be.

Links and Resources

Networks for Composers

How to build networks - Advice from Creative Living
Music Media Forum
Producers and Composers of Applied Music (PCAM)
Social network for creatives - This is Central Station
Institute of Composing

Professional bodies

Musician's Union
Help Musicians UK
Featured Artists Coalition

Resources for Composers

Musical career advice from ISM
20 things you must know about music online
Sound art resource list
Electro acoustic resource site
Opportunities and new for composers from Networked Music Review
Music Think Tank
Ideas Tap
Advice on recording at home from Audio Masterclass
BBC Intoducing
Careers in Music
Artists House Music
Advice on music contracts from Music For London

Opportunities for Composers