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πŸ’΅ How Much to Charge for Composing

⭐️ highlights πŸ’΅ money Aug 21, 2023

(Want to auto-calculate your rates? Check out my FREE music pricing calculator!)

Per Hour, Minute, or Project?

The Problem with Hourly

Hourly pricing in the creative space presents two problems.

Firstly, a client doesn’t know how many hours a project will take you—and you probably don’t either.

This makes it difficult to quote projects, and often leaves us underestimating the time the work will take.

The other issue is that hourly pricing punishes us as we become faster at our work.

As you gain experience in the field, you’ll get quicker, resulting in fewer hours needed for a project.

When you’re pricing by the hour, less time needed = less money received.

Why Per Minute Works Best

Charging per minute is simple and effective for both parties.

It incentivizes my efficiency when I get faster in my craft, and sets clear expectations on what the client should expect to pay.

Charging Per Project

Most of the time, this is the same for me as charging per minute (just on a broader scale).

In some cases, with long-standing clients who I enjoy working with, I’ll offer a small discount for larger projects.

Factors That Influence Your Price

Here are six factors that can help you determine your pricing:

1. Experience Level

If you're just getting started, it'll be difficult to charge a lot for your music. Focus on building your compositional and collaborative skills.

(When I started, I worked for free)

2. Demand

As people become aware of you and your music, you'll be able to negotiate higher pay in exchange for the opportunity cost.

(I can charge 2-5x more when clients find me, instead of me finding them)

3. Complexity

A challenging project/piece requires more time. Make sure to charge extra as a precaution.

(I charge ≈50% more for projects that will need more time than usual.)

4. Urgency

Putting everything aside to help a project reach the finish line is worth a lot. Charge appropriately.

(I charge 2x for rush fees, unless it's a client I love working with and want to help out.)

5. Revisions

If you expect a lot of revisions, buffer that time and energy into your pricing.

(I put a 2-revision limit on almost every project I take to protect my time.)

6. Value

Music for an Apple product launch should be priced higher than music for a student film--the value for the client is higher.

(I discuss a project's budget with my clients to determine a rate that's fair to both of us.)

My rates over time
  • 2011: $0/mn
  • 2014: $50/mn
  • 2018: $100/mn
  • 2020: $200/mn
  • 2022: $400/mn
  • 2023: $500-$1k/mn

(Stay patient & persistent, and the results will come!)

Survival-Based Pricing

Here’s how to determine the minimum amount you need to charge to make a living as a composer.

(Use this number to stop yourself from charging too little—not to hold you back from charging more.)

  1. Calculate your total average monthly living expenses. We’ll call this “Expenses”.
    (Rent, food, entertainment, travel, etc.)
  2. Determine how many hours you intend on composing per week. We’ll call this “HPW”.
    (If you’re not sure, pick 40, assuming you want to work five 8-hour days)
  3. Evaluate how many hours it takes you to write one minute of music. We’ll call this “Speed”.
    (If you’re not sure, time yourself for a week and calculate an average)

Now with your numbers, use this formula:

(Expenses / [HPW x 4.3]) x Speed

This number represents the minimum hourly wage for you to sustain yourself writing music (given your current writing speed and financial needs).

Example: If my monthly expenses are $2k, I work 40 hours a week, and it takes me 5 hours to write a minute of music, I need to charge at least $60 per minute to sustain myself.

Keep in mind that this assumes you’re booked with work constantly, you have no revisions, and taxes don’t exist—none of which are true.

Add a multiplier of 1.5 or higher to account for that uncertainty.

Aspirational Rate

Use this simple formula once you’re being approached for work, and want to increase your prices.

  1. Determine how much you want to be paid per hour. We’ll call this “Desired Hourly”.
  2. Calculate how many hours it takes you to write one minute of music. We’ll call this “Speed”.

Now, with your numbers, use the formula Desired Hourly x Speed.

This number represents what you need to start charging to meet your financial goal. It will often mean raising your prices, letting some clients go, and turning down new work.

Remember to multiply by 1.5 or higher to account for lack of work, revisions, and taxes.

Example: If I want to be paid $100/hour, and it takes me 3 hours to write a minute of music, I should be charging at least $450 per minute. ($100 x 3 x 1.5)

As your value increases through experience and demand, so too must your price.

After the Pitch

When you discuss money with a client who has approached you for work, one of three things will happen. Here’s how to navigate each scenario:

Option 1: They say yes


And if EVERY client that approaches you is saying yes, you need to charge more.

Continue upping your rates with each new project.

Option 2: They present a counter-offer

If they’ve approached you, you’re in control. You don’t have to accept their offer.

Ask yourself if you want the gig enough to be willing to deal with the reduced pay.

If so, be clear about your standard rates and what you expect in return. Say:

“Normally I don’t offer discounts to first-time clients, but this sounds like an interesting project and I’d like to be involved. I’d just ask that for future projects, we revert to my standard rate. Does that sound reasonable?”

(You can also put other restrictions in place to protect your time, such as revision limits, an extended deadline, or a service from the client in return for the discount.)

Option 3: They can’t afford you (and don’t negotiate)

You’re either way out of their budget, or they’re looking for a cheap option. Don’t pursue it.


“No problem. It sounds like this isn’t a great fit at the moment. Please feel free to reach out anytime if that changes, and best of luck with your project!”

Working for Free

In the early stages of a creative career, you’ll be asked to work for free—and you may decide to say yes.

But remember: working for free is NOT the same as working for nothing.

It’s essential to establish what you’re worth early in your relationship with a new client, communicate your value, and set clear boundaries.

When negotiating, ask your client what they’re comfortable spending. If it’s low, but you’d still like the job, say:

“Normally I charge (your rate), but because I’d really like to work with you, I’m willing to be flexible on that. Can you meet me anywhere in between?”

If they can, make sure you put some restrictions in place - revision limits or limited usage of music - as a protection.

(You can be flexible when meeting a client’s needs, but should still protect yourself in the process.)

As you gain experience and clientele, be willing to walk from projects that can’t meet your pricing.

The experience you build is worth something, and saying no will become imperative to your ability to take on higher-paying work for higher-value clients.

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