Grants of up to £10,000 are currently on offer via our Community Music scheme to help groups looking to take on a more ambitious project that includes the commission of a new piece of music.
Groups applying under the scheme may have undertaken a commission in the past, but many groups will be looking to go through the process for the very first time. With this in mind, we asked Making Music to give us some tips on the process.
If you’re from a music group that wants to have creative input in the music it performs, while also experiencing the thrill of staging a world premiere, then commissioning a new piece of music might be for you. And with the BBC Performing Arts Fund offering extensive funding opportunities to community music groups, there’s never been a better time to give it a try.
As the UK’s number one organisation for voluntary music, Making Music has extensive experience in commissioning new music to be performed by our member groups (such as Jubilate! Jubilee! which Paul Mealor is writing for Making Music choirs in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee). We also provide our members with guidance and assistance when they want to commission new music themselves.
We wanted to share some of our expertise with you, and have provided a few pointers to help make sure your commission goes off with a bang.
Write a clear brief
Start by deciding what it is you want from the piece – the more clearly your brief reflects what you want, the more likely it is you’ll be happy with the finished piece. This may involve making decisions about things like what instruments are required, the duration of the piece, or whether soloists should be used. Should you specify a theme (particularly if your piece is being commissioned to mark a specific occasion)? Remember, some composers will be more open to suggestions than others.
Choose the right composer
Unless you already have someone in mind, selecting your composer can be the most difficult part of the process, and it’s worth spending time to make sure you choose the right person.
The first decision is whether you want to work with an experienced composer, who will have a track record but is likely to cost more, or someone less established, who may well be able to commit more time and effort to your project. Try contacting BASCA or Sound and Music for a list of potential composers. Alternatively, you could stage a competition for local composers to write a piece for your group, or advertise in a conservatoire or university music department.
Once you’ve got a composer in mind, be sure to invite them to a rehearsal or one of your concerts. Discuss with them exactly what you want from the piece, and don't commit yourself until you have agreed what both sides want out of the commissioning process and have established a good relationship with the composer.
Have a contract in place
It is very important that you have a formal contract or exchange of letters
with the composer whom you are commissioning. If you are working via a publisher, they will almost certainly issue you with a contract, which you may want to ask a lawyer to examine. If not, make sure your contract includes clauses about the deadline and fees, as well as who will possess the rights to the new piece.
Market your premiere concert
Drumming up interest in your premiere concert is a crucial part of the commissioning process, and there are some simple steps to ensuring you have a good turnout:
• Think about the whole programme. Including a well-known work alongside your new one is a good way of encouraging audiences to attend.
• Produce engaging publicity materials, stressing the uniqueness of the event and avoiding overly technical language.
• Try listing your concert in other publications.
• Making Music members can also promote their concerts on our events calendar.
It unfortunately happens that, when a group has commissioned an exciting new piece of music, it often fades into obscurity after its first performance. There are a few easy ways to ensure a piece has a life after its premiere:
• Providing the work is a success, plan repeat performances yourself, which will help to establish it in the repertoire.
• You could also hire it out to other groups using Making Music’s Music Bank.
• If the rights are held by the composer or publisher, you could encourage other groups to hire it from them.
• If the work is particularly exciting and spectacular, ensure that the composer and publisher are aware of your enthusiasm, as they will be able to use your quotations and comments in their marketing literature.
If you’d like some inspiration from other groups that have successfully commissioned new music, check out the blog for our Adopt a Composer scheme, which pairs member groups with up-and-coming composers (run in partnership with the PRS Foundation and Sound and Music).
Taken from the Making Music information sheet, ‘How to Commission New Music’, available only to Making Music members. To find out more, visit their website.