Composing for indie projects – How much to charge?

Home Forums General Questions Composing for indie projects – How much to charge?

Tagged: , ,

This topic contains 36 replies, has 15 voices, and was last updated by  Michael Nickolas 7 months ago.

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 37 total)
  • Author
  • #19512 Reply


    I always seem to get asked how much I charge, rather they never tell me how much they are willing to offer / what their budget for music is. If I quote something high, sometimes they’ll not even bother to negotiate and hence never reply back. If I quote something low, I basically shoot myself on the foot.

    So how do composers around here tackle this?

    How much do you charge for indie projects especially sometimes if they have scope of becoming popular or major in the future?

    #19513 Reply

    Art Munson

    Don’t have much experience in this field and the goal post is always changing but charging by the minute of music is a good way. $500-$1000 seems fair but someone will correct me if I’m off the mark.

    #19514 Reply


    I’ve scored a lot of indie films (60+). I think the trick is to decide how much you want to do the project. The potential pain or joy of working with the client should dictate the fee.

    Sadly, most ultra low budget films aren’t going to pay more for music than $10,000 for a feature, or $2000 for a short film. A per-minute rate won’t look pretty when you only have that much to work with.

    So, if you love the sound of the project, you could say something along the lines of: your usual rate is $X00 per minute but because you love the film so much, you’re willing to make it work. Ways to stretch the budget might be to use existing tracks in your catalog, writing some music that can be re-used / re-mixed in a handful of scenes.

    Also – you probably know this, but just in case – always insist on owning the music, giving them a license in perpetuity. This helps you build up your own catalog and get a credit to your name at the same time. The only reason to give this up is if you’re getting paid well – $1500+ per minute.

    #19515 Reply


    $500-1000 per minute is a range that I hear from my friends in the video game industry.

    For indie films, I don’t know if there’s an answer.

    At the PMA conference last fall, Jeff Beal said that one option when the music budget is not adequate is to negotiate to keep all rights to your music. You can then try to exploit the music in other ways – use it in other projects, pitch it to libraries, sell downloads, etc.

    #19516 Reply


    $500-1000 per minute is a range that I hear from my friends in the video game industry.

    $500 is for low budget indie games. For major games the rate is more like $1500 – $2000

    #19522 Reply


    Wow I never knew the standard was 500-1000 a minute

    I have not even been charging a 1/10 of that and I have given away my music exclusively..

    I tried to push to $100 a min once to repeat client before but they said as people don’t really “value” instrumental music hence they couldn’t see themselves paying such a high price..

    I don’t know where I can find such indie projects who can afford even $50 a minute… So far I’ve mainly been using forums and getting messages from my website for new projects…

    #19526 Reply


    Personally I break it down into 2 groups exclusively and non-exclusively. If the client wants to be the only one that uses the music I charge around 1200 a minute, but if I can re-use the music like put it out there as stock music I charge around 700. That is pretty generic though, and if there is a project that I really want to work on maybe a film that I really like or a video game, I’d be more then happy to make it work. I’ve heard a few times through the grapevine that the music budget should be roughly 5% of the overall budget, and I go by that as a starting spot.

    So for example if there is an indie horror flick or something I like and they really need music, but can’t afford it. I will ask them well what is their budget for the movie, and then try to work out a fair price from there.

    There are always going to be potential projects out there where they want a custom piece of music for like practically nothing. I tell them that is what stock music is for. I really suggest to a lot of musicians out there not to take the bait of just trying to make some music for practically nothing because for one it’s your time, your gear, your experience and that has value. Two more then likely the person on the other end is just playing hard ball, and if you don’t negotiate strong they will not respect you and bottom line is they are making something that they want to get maximum profits on themselves.

    Last but not least the ones that just want the cheapest stuff are a lot of the times the hardest people to work for, and will eat up a lot of your time. Sometimes you have to be willing to walk away from something that just isn’t worth your time. That’s like a confidence thing, and something you develop over time but it’s something important to focus on.

    #19530 Reply


    Last but not least the ones that just want the cheapest stuff are a lot of the times the hardest people to work for, and will eat up a lot of your time.

    LOL Michael! So true. I realized that 30 years ago and came up with this basic rule:

    The clients with the least amount of money to a spend are the one’s who expect the most.

    I never had a client prove that wrong.

    #19531 Reply


    If the client wants to be the only one that uses the music I charge around 1200 a minute, but if I can re-use the music like put it out there as stock music I charge around 700.

    BTW, just curious…assuming the an indie flick might be 90 minutes long, and contain an average of 45 minutes of music, have you really found clients with $31,000 to $55,000 to spend on music?

    #19550 Reply


    MichaelL, the majority of custom music I do is for more for the business world doing explainers, ads, corporate videos and that general niche. Normally what ends up happening is I use that generic pricing as a guide and then figure out a per second rate. I kind of work with the same assumption as a wholesale model where I can quote a price that behoves them to use me again in the future. So for example, I recent customer just got a hold of me to bid on a project for a series of videos for this company. They were talking around 10 videos averaging 1:30-2:00 minutes. Now that was a job I really wanted so what I did was quote them a per second non-exclusive rate with a 6 month window where they could decide to move exclusive. By doing it by the second it was helpful for them to ball park the music. It was less then the normal 60 second rate, but it still left me a nice margin to work with.

    For an Indie flick that would be so much out of my wheel house. Don’t get me wrong, if there was a project where I just enjoyed it, and wanted to get behind it, I would work with them and try to work out a payment that makes sense. I have yet to make a contact with an indie film maker that had 30,000-50,000 grand to throw around for a music budget. I am sure they are out there but I haven’t found them. What I’ve done in the past for indie film/indie game developers is have them send me what they want along with some visuals and work with them a bit. Then when I finish the music just throw it in my stock music library for them.

    Maybe in time they will get more successful in their careers and remember that and come to me with a 30,000-50,000 budget but those type of numbers for me are still pretty fair away. I’ve been doing the commercial music thing for going on 4 years now, and feel like I still have some dues to pay before I can land a 30,000-50,000 45 minute custom score.

    #19553 Reply


    I had an indie film producer contact me about an FMN submission. Just a single track he wanted to license for a percentage of the film. I thought “what the heck” and did it because he has a good track record. I’m the proud owner of 0.25% of his most recent film, currently in post production. I can’t wait to see where this goes. At least I’ll get my name in the credits plus writer and publisher back end if there is any

    #19554 Reply


    “At least I’ll get my name in the credits plus writer and publisher back end if there is any”

    Congrats. Hopefully, the film will be shown outside the US, and eventually make its way to TV. Movie theaters in the US do not pay PRO royalties.

    #19555 Reply


    Just hypothetically for the sake of discussion if you were an indie film maker and you were working on a feature that you planned on putting online, submit it out to different film festivals, and were on that level, it would be very unlikely you’d have a budget that could support that pricing of the 1000 a minute ball park. For something like that we’d have to have a real talk about the budget and what was a realistic way we could both have some sort of a win/win arrangement. With something like that it would start with 5% of the budget to begin with and see what that number was. So say they had a 50,000 budget for the entire film the starting number would be around $2500 for the music. Well to create 45 minutes of custom music for $2500 dollars wouldn’t make economic sense for me cause that will take a lot of time. So it would probably start by combining stock and custom music to fill the time. Start a realistic discussion about what absolutely needs a custom score, maybe just the opening theme, and a couple sporadic pieces that ties that together mixed with stock music. Then we’d have to talk about whether there really was $2500 set aside for the music and what they actually had. Say they only had $2000, depending if you’re liking the project and you’ve worked it out that your time is not going to be sucked into this, then maybe work out the credits, along with a prominent music credit on the cover art, film or whatever.

    It would really be about working out a deal that is a win for you and a win for them. Maybe if that film does well their next film has some investors and a larger budget of maybe 100,000. Now their career has advanced and since you worked with them in the past they come back to you and can pay a little more.

    At the same time the movie could completely fail, and go no where. At least you got paid enough where you’re not having that feeling of like man I’ve put so much work into this and I am not getting paid anything. That is a terrible situation when you get sucked into a time trap and you’ve completely quoted this wrong, it’s going no where, and taking time away from pursing something that is better for you.

    That is how I would realistically handle something like that, but if the situation was different and a film maker had a larger budget that may support 30,000-50,000 and wants something super sync’d, specific, and custom, and just unique that would be totally different.

    This business has so many different levels and situations. It’s easy to say well this is what I charge, but really it’s more generic then that. It is kind of the starting spot but it’s negotiable because the genre of music can effect the price, the time frame, the project, the person you working with, the future opportunities, ect. There is a lot of “if” factors and “it depends.”

    I think it’s really important to keep in mind too that your prices aren’t just about your music. It’s the whole package. What I mean by that is, if someone comes to me over and over again it’s not just because they are happy with the music. They are happy with the customer service, the dependability, the rapport, the trust that is built up over time. I’d be willing to make a bold statement here and that is I would say maybe 90% of musicians here could make a happy clappy ukulele track. I feel like that would be realistic, and there is probably 100,000 stock happy clappy ukulele tracks to choose from online. If you have built up a positive business relationship with someone over time, they know they can depend on you, the trust you will do the job in a timely fashion, and the music is going to sound great, they will go to you every time, even though there are so many other options out there.

    The reason being is that it’s not just the music its the value you deliver to them as a whole package. The music, the musician, the core business values, integrity, ect are what really make you successful. People don’t want the dirt cheapest price, the want the best value for their money. Customer service is a HUGE deal, answering emails timely is a HUGE deal, all of that contributes to your pricing not just your music.

    I think sometimes musicians don’t appreciate that enough. People value the service just as much as your music. If you can delivery an awesome piece of music for them, and do it in a way that they are confident in you and happy with the experience, you’ll be ok and they will come back in the future. These people have a million things going on and they want to be able to depend on you to get the music side of things off their plate. If they know hey I am going to call up “insert musician here” to do this music they do it cause they know they are going to get something good, and get it on time. They wont have to worry about it. That has value.

    #19556 Reply


    A little off topic but, for the record, the track is in several RF sites under the same title. The producer could have bought it for $50 and been done with it if he spent 5 min on google. He chose to honor his FMN call for music. I respect that and was happy/honored that he chose my cue for his movie and paid me with a slice of his pie (assuming it gets used, it’s not released yet). This time, it was about creators supporting creators. The movie does have a composer listed on Imdb, so this reply is really about an incidental track placement.
    If I make anything from it, I’ll consider it Karma, ha

    #19557 Reply


    Back on topic:
    Last week I was contacted by children’s book author via an RF site. They “loved my music” and were in the process of creating an interactive children’s iPad type app for the 1st time, can I edit music?
    The author is successful (amazon. Barnes & Noble, etc) I REALLY want to break into this market so I agreed to do it for a very low price, although still much more than if they had just bought a couple of RF tracks. So far I have edited/sliced/diced/looped other composers tracks they bought. We agreed on a payment schedule and they paid in advance for step 1. I am confident I will get paid. My young adult child is doing the voice over/singing for the game, I will pay her a generous % of the $500 fee. So far it has been simple audio editing. I will throw in a track or 2 of mine if they want, it would actually be easier editing since I have all the stems.
    The author is clueless about multimedia, so it was a rough start due to communication problems. They hired an person to put it all together.

    Am I a fool for doing this mostly editing gig for $500?
    My thoughts are:
    -After it is done I hope to be this author’s “go to guy” for music
    -Convince them that buying RF tracks for a game is like using stock photos for illustrations, They should hire me for a custom work for hire, ha
    -Hopefully get connected with their publisher
    -Breaking my kid into the Voice over business

    All said and done, It will probably be 40 hours work.

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 37 total)
Reply To: Composing for indie projects – How much to charge?
Your information: