A recent commission from an organization in my hometown has turned into an unpleasant experience. Hopefully this post can serve as a warning to rising composers. The old pros will nod in agreement with what I’m about to say.
I received my first commission over a year ago from a local youth choir. I belonged to the organization during high school, and knew the conductor who commissioned me from my days as a singer. It was a friendly and trusting relationship from the beginning.
When time came to put together an agreement, I consulted several friends and professors, and most said to draft a contract that both parties would sign. Because I thought the commissioner and I were friends, I didn’t bother with the “contract,” opting instead for a formal letter that I mailed to him, and to which he agreed to by email.
The premiere took place several weeks ago, and I still had not been paid. My payment was due in December. I was lied to on two occasions that “the check’s in the mail.” Now I hear that the organization is nearly bankrupt. The orchestral players and hall rental fees have been paid, but not the composer.
I should have created a very legal contract where both of us signed, because the chance that I head to small claims court to collect my fee is now very real. Without the contract, I’ll have to gather up all our email correspondence that indicates his agreement to pay per the terms set out in my letter.
Moral of the story: No matter how cozy you are with the performer/organization commissioning your work, have a very careful contract in place for both of you to sign. Either request payment up front, or half at signing and half at completion.
I’ll let you know when I get my check.