5 ways to compensate composers when there is no budget

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I—like most media composers nowadays—always keep an eye on online forums/groups for job offers that might be a good fit with my style/experience. Every time I come across a posting with the “no budget” tag in it I can’t help but think there are missed opportunities to still give a satisfactory compensation. This would probably help limiting the ongoing decrease in the average composers’ fee rates and, most importantly, it would attract more experienced/skilled professionals thus increasing the project’s quality.

So, below are listed 5 ways to compensate composers when there is no budget.

Back-end percentage/deferred composer fee

This one in my opinion is the most appealing way of compensation I could be offered (aside from being paid a proper upfront composer fee, that is). There are many variables to think of when going for this approach. Like what source of income will be shared with the composer (box office, DVD sales, downloads and streaming…), by what percentage, when in the process (right from the first earnings or after having reached a certain cap), and for how long (depending on whether a set amount is agreed upon or not the retribution will stop after having reached the sum or keep going).

Keep in mind that the composers willing to accept this as a form of compensation are de facto betting on your project. Therefore if your goal is to attract experienced/skilled composers you might have to demonstrate its quality and potential to earn. Share early shots, pictures, script snippets, etc… Do you have screenings already booked? Mention them in detail. Are you in talk with a TV network? State it clearly. Is there a distributor interested in the project? Share this info in the job posting.

A share of prizes and awards

compensate composers with awards

Some projects don’t have many chances of earning income out of distribution by design. Short films often fall in this category because of their length and how they are consumed. In this case, however, you could leverage on another potential source of income: festivals and awards’ prizes. Offer prospective composers a share of all income generated by award prizes, and don’t forget that mentioning a detailed festivals/competitions roadmap is essential to make the offer trustworthy.

Here too, I advise enriching job postings with material that can demonstrate right away the quality of your project as composers would be betting on its likelihood to win prizes.

Expenses

Do you know what is worse than working for no money? Working and loosing money. Try your best to save a tiny amount of money to at least repay your composer’s expenses. This might be a taxi ride to your cutting room, or a sample library purchase of the ethnic instrument you requested, or the recording of a few real musicians that will make your project so much better. Offering expenses only won’t give your job posting much more momentum but it might give it enough to make a difference.

Gear (new or used)

Most composers are big geeks (I am at least)! And some of us might share your passions. Are you passionate about photography and have a great prime lens sitting on your shelf? Try offering that as compensation. Do you have a huge vinyl collection but only listen to Spotify? I know quite a few colleagues that would score hours of music in exchange for the right LP. Did you buy and electric guitar but ended up never playing it? That might be the perfect kind of remuneration. Be creative, you might be sitting on quite a few ways to make a talented composer happy to help you!

Credits and exposure (with a caveat)

Too often the words “credits and exposure” stand for “nothing to offer”. When not supported by evidence of the exposure being considerable, and unequivocally, these words risk to trigger a loss of interest in potential candidates, especially the most experienced ones. What is unequivocally considerable exposure then? It could be the name of a star cast/crew member attached to the project. Or it could be previous projects you produced/directed that have reached fame and won awards. I advise offering as much supporting info as possible in your posting. If you are not sure that the exposure is going to be perceived as significant and legitimate then it’s probably not. You should only leverage on this as a compensation device when there is objectively no doubt about it.

A note on publishing rights and masters

All the above are alternative ways of remuneration, that do not include an upfront money payment. Therefore be prepared to let the composer keep the music publishing rights and masters when going one of these ways. I would steer away from a posting asking for either publishing rights or masters in exchange for no money upfront, and I am pretty sure any experienced composer would do the same.

There you have it. 5 ways to compensate your composer on no budget projects. Please spread the word and share this article the next time you see a job posting that could be offering one of these!

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Giovanni Rotondo

Editor in Chief of Film Scoring Tips. Giovanni Rotondo is an experienced film and television composer based in London. He has scored many award winning feature films (Elijah and the Rock Creature, Orphans & Kingdoms), TV movies (Il Giudice Meschino, Il Confine), documentaries (Ilaria Alpi - L'Ultimo Viaggio) and video games (Thunderbird: The Legend Begins). More info here: giovannirotondo.com

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