Composing for indie projects – How much to charge?

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  • #19553 Reply
    Alan
    Participant

    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
    MichaelL
    Participant

    “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
    MuscoSound
    Participant

    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
    Alan
    Participant

    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
    Alan
    Participant

    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 elance.com 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.
    Thoughts?

    #19558 Reply
    huge
    Participant

    I typically see 3k-7k for indie films. I’ve seen people do a whole film for 1k or even free, sadly. You have to negotiate for the higher end. Definitely be agreeable to lower fees, but say the only way you’re able to do it for that low a fee is to keep ownership.

    #19561 Reply
    MuscoSound
    Participant

    Does anybody know how much like the top Hollywood composers get for a film score? Think like Hans Zimmer, what do you think his ball park would be for a feature, or just the highest paid composer in general?

    #19562 Reply
    Mark_Petrie
    Participant

    Does anybody know how much like the top Hollywood composers get for a film score? Think like Hans Zimmer, what do you think his ball park would be for a feature, or just the highest paid composer in general?

    Well over 1 million, I’ve heard some fees go as high as 2 million every now and then.

    #19564 Reply
    MuscoSound
    Participant

    Thanks Mark, that is good to know. It really shows what is possible at the very top of the mountain. So basically you got composers scoring for zero dollars all the way up to 2 million. That is a pretty nice spectrum of possibilities and everybody is somewhere in there. It’s pretty inspirational to know that people at the very top can pull those numbers, and that is good for all of us.

    I am not really sure how you get to that level, but it is pretty sweet to know it exists. Personally I am having a pretty terrible sales month right now, and it’s easy to start to feel down. For me, hope is a big driving force. Reading that was kind of the shot in the arm I needed to hear to kind of snap out of it. I appreciate it Mark.

    I wasn’t planning on making any music today, but I think I will. haha I have got to expand my cinematic skills.

    #19560 Reply
    MuscoSound
    Participant

    So basically 40 hours of work for $500 equals out to like $12.5 an hour. If that’s ok with you that is what matters. For your situation it sounds like you’ve weighed the pro’s and con’s. Something to keep in mind though is it will be hard to move from that price the next time you work with them. For example say they liked the work you did and want to use you again and in reality you need $20 an hour instead of the 12.5 they might be like woo woo that’s a big jump, and you might have to negotiate to like maybe $15. I guess it all depends on what you need your margins are and how much potential business that person will throw your way. I wouldn’t say your a fool at all. You just need to make sure that it’s a win for you and not just a win for them. To me it sounds like your kind of feeling like you should of charged more because 40 hours is a lot of work time. If that’s how you feel then make sure next time you don’t quote that way again, and hopefully the job pans out good for you and it was worth it.

    Sometimes I get a little cynical in the sense that I’ve heard from a lot of people promising me things like oh if you do this music, I got a bunch of work lined up bla bla bla, or this is a small budget project but I got a large budget thing coming up next quarter. Which panned out to be just b******t, and I don’t know if it’s like they are being super optimistic or they were flat out lying to me. Maybe it’s the way they negotiate or whatever, but it’s something to be careful with because you can get caught up in that and think things are going good having all this prospective work but in reality it’s not there.

    My old boss was a very smart sales person and she always used to tell us that you quote a price for today (I was in wholesale sales) based on the quantity they are buying today, and the history of sales they have had in the past not what they are promising for the future. The thought behind that is people that purchase for companies have an invested interest in beating down a price.

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