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Composers in crisis: British report raises concern over declining commission fees

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Sound and Music, the national agency for New Music in Britain, has released findings based in a survey of 466 composers that suggest there may be no worse time to be a composer in living history.

The report accounts that over time, composers in Britain are being paid less for their work, and receiving less time for rehearsals and preparation of their works. They also suggested that arts organisations value performers, conductors and administrators over composers – which is systematically forcing professional composers to seek work in other related fields such as academia, advertising, film, television and video games.

You can download copy of the full report (PDF) here.

  • 49% of composers feel that there is less rehearsal/preparation time for new works.
  • 66% of the 466 composers who responded stated they do not find commissions to be a significant proportion of their income. Given that the respondents had an average of 2.65 commissions in 2013 with an average fee per commission of £1,392 it’s easy to see why.
  • 74% of composers received the same amount or more commissions in 2013 than in 2012 but only 15% earned more income. We also discovered that those who had been undertaking commissions for more than five years were likely to win more commissions but get paid less per commission.
  • There are significant variances in income: the best paid 1% of composers received over 25% of all commission income captured by our survey. Once we excluded them from our sample, average annual commission income fell from £3,689 to £2,717.

To put this into Canadian dollars, in 2013 the average commission in Britain was of $2,246, and the average yearly income was of $5,160, at over just under 3 pieces per year.

The report will come as no surprise to contemporary composers, who have been struggling to find a way to make a living from dwindling commissions. How many musical voices are being stifled by this disturbing trend? This cannot be healthy.

Michael Vincent

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