Composing for indie projects – How much to charge?

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  • #19512 Reply
    xeon92
    Participant

    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
    Keymaster

    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
    Mark_Petrie
    Participant

    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
    composer
    Participant

    $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
    Mark_Petrie
    Participant

    $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
    xeon92
    Participant

    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
    MuscoSound
    Participant

    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
    MichaelL
    Participant

    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
    MichaelL
    Participant

    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
    MuscoSound
    Participant

    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.

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