New music organisation Sound and Music has published the results of its recent survey of composers’ commissioning activities, which suggest that composers are producing more for less money, while also having to find other means of generating a significant income.
Of a total of 466 respondents to the survey, which asked composers about their activities in 2013 and ran from 23 June to 16 July this year, 66% said that commissions were not a significant proportion of their income. Respondents had taken on an average of 2.65 commissions over the course of 2013, for an average individual commission fee of £1,392.
More than 40% of respondents said they had not earned any income at all from commissions in 2013. Those who were paid received annual total fees ranging from £1 to more than £100,000. The highest single commission was £60,000 for a ‘medium-scale work’, of 10-50 artists.
While revealing some healthy figures at the very top end of the market, the survey suggests a great disparity between the most successful composers and the rest: the best-paid 1% received 25% of all commission income, meaning that while average annual income from commissions was £3,689, when excluding the top 1% that figure dropped to £2,717 per year.
However, when turning down a commission, ‘inadequate compensation’ was cited as only the third most common reason: the most common was ‘lack of time’, followed by ‘lack of interest or faith in the project’.
The survey results are a clear indication that for all but the most successful of working composers, writing music is, at best, supplementary to making a living through other means.
Sound and Music’s chief executive, Susanna Eastburn, said the figures ‘will not come as a surprise to those who work in new music’, and that, within the music sector, ‘we have some hard questions to ask ourselves about our priorities’.
‘Composers either need private or other sources of income ‒ usually teaching, performing or conducting.
‘It takes heroic commitment to become a composer if you’re from a working class background, with higher education courses charging fees in the thousands of pounds and remuneration for your compositions so low.
‘What the evidence implies is that the work of composers (and composing as a profession) is valued far less by the sector than that of performers, conductors and administrators. How can that be right when it is the music itself that communicates with audiences?’