Commissioning New Music by Tim Knight

Most commissions start with a cup of coffee!

Tim Knight is an avid believer that new music should be accessible to all and so he is open to discussing commissions for any occasion, from pieces for birthdays, weddings and other celebrations, to large choral and instrumental works.

Anyone can commission new music - effectively you are simply collaborating with a composer to write you a piece of music for a specific reason or event - maybe to celebrate the centenary of your group, or the opening of a new concert hall, or as a gift, or to mark a special occasion, whether it be sombre or cheerful.

Some organisations commission works for charitable purposes and others, who may not even be musical groups, commission works for groups they support or are involved with to perform.

Tim Knight's current commissions on the table aptly demonstrate the diversity of reasons to request a new piece of music:

  • commission to write a choral piece for a large choral festival;
  • new commission for wedding music;
  • a repeat commission from St Barnabas, Oxford for Choral music; and
  • two separate commissions for special birthdays and anniversaries.

Commissioning is not a new idea - many of the great concert works we already listen to and perform were at one time commissions, and there are film scores, operas, jingles and theatre music being commissioned all the time.

New works can attract publicity, reviews and even recordings; they can include other performing groups so that a new audience is reached; they can showcase a particular aspect of your group’s music making and finally, they can mark your group out as forward thinking and top of the pile when it comes to grant applications for innovative programming and other funds. 

It is widely perceived that having your own piece of music written for you or your group is expensive, but if, for instance, your group is a choir of 80 looking for new repertoire and you want to buy or hire existing music which costs, say £10 per score, then you could ask each choir member if they would be willing to contribute all or part of that cost towards a new piece of music - this is the old subscription basis where many people put in a small amount into a pot and together the commission is funded (much 18th-century music was funded in this way).

So, what does the composer need to know?

The composer will need to know your timescale, ie, when you need the piece for; when is the first performance etc, so that there is enough time to complete the work! They will also need to know the combination of instruments/voices etc that you intend to use and may ask what other pieces are programmed alongside the work, or if the piece is to be performed solely for a special occasion. 

If the music is to be choral or vocal, then there are also special considerations regarding the text to be set - will it be chosen by the composer or the commissioner; will it be in copyright (in which case it will need permissions) or in the public domain? If the text is coming from a local poet or even a group member - they will own the copyright to that text and so letters of agreement would need to be drawn up for its use. 

What will it cost?

The cost will largely depend on how long the piece will be (usually priced per minute) and how complex it is (ie, how many voice parts/instruments). 

For the most part, composers can set their own rates (see below where exceptions apply) and offer advice on where to seek other funding alternatives if required. 

A contract will be needed if only to cover all eventualities. On the signing of this contract the composer normally receives 50% of the fee, with the remainder being payable on the delivery of the completed work (a sample contract is available on request by email (mail@timknightmusic.com).

Tim Knight works on a fixed price commission cost (which is considerably lower than other composers and recommended rates) - there is a band for church music which is lower than for other pieces so as to stimulate extra repertoire being added to this area, for which he is a keen ambassador. On all other pieces, he is open to discussion to work with you to have a mutually agreeable contract, so all you need to do is email Tim at mail@timknightmusic.com to organise that cup of coffee! 

Some composers include the actual preparation of the parts, others do not. Tim Knight's commissions always come with a set of copies included in the commissioning costs - this is unusual, as most composers will charge for these separately. 

The Musicians Union charges can be accessed via this link, and these do have to be adhered to if funding for the commission (in full or part) is coming from a public body (eg, Arts Council, Lottery) - please seek advice from us if you are in any doubt as to what this applies to. 

Who does the music belong to and what rights does the commissioner have?

Generally speaking (but again check with a contract), the commissioner has the right to be credited as the commissioner on all editions of the score; the right to receive a set number of scores and the right to the first performance and/or recording - some or all of these may be included and are negotiable. 

The composer generally retains the copyright and the rights to submit the work to publishers, or to self-publish the work, and obviously the composer will register the work with his performance collecting societies so that ongoing royalties can be collected (the main source of a composers income), though the royalties may be waived for the first performance, and also music for use in divine service does not attract a performing royalty. 

For any further enquiries, to request or hear samples of past commissions, please do not hesitate to contact us and visit our YouTube Channel.