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How much does a TV music composer get paid?

If you write music for TV, then it's $$$ all the way, surely? Reality however can often be rather different...


You may have heard of They publish listings of music wanted by labels and production companies. Taxi members send in their work for screening and the best get sent on.

That's just by-the-by, but they have a forum that I chanced onto recently. Someone had asked the question how much do composers get paid.

Oddly, no-one seemed prepared to answer. So what's the big secret?

Well I can tell you exactly how much composers get paid in my area of the business, which is production music.

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Production music is written in advance and distributed to companies that are likely to use it. It can be bought on a royalty-free license, or paid for on a royalty basis. I work the latter route, so that is the area where I can give you a few facts.

So what's the most a composer can get paid?

No, let's start with the least. What's the least a composer can get paid?

Imagine the scenario. You write and record some music that is suitable for use on TV. You sign a contract with a publisher for 50% of both performance and mechanical royalties.

And you get paid...


Not a penny. The track earns you no money whatsoever.

Yes, that can happen. Even the best publisher makes errors of judgment, or sometimes just takes a chance on a track. But it doesn't work out, and even though the music is made available to users, no-one wants it.

Writing production music is like buying raffle tickets. If you buy just one ticket, you are unlikely to win. If you attend lots of raffles and buy lots of tickets, then you will win on a regular basis. A composer of production music needs somewhere in the order of fifty tracks to be sure of a regular income. And I always advise composers to do production music in their spare time, between commissioned jobs.

So supposing a track does earn something. What's the least it can earn?

One penny. That's a UK penny or a US cent. Whatever the lowest denomination is.

Yes you can really get paid just a penny. At least that's how it will appear on your royalty statements. You probably won't get a check until there is a certain amount owing to you.

This kind of payment comes from broadcasts on small cable networks, particularly where just a couple of seconds of a track have been used. Small radio stations can generate very low payments too.

So to the other end of the scale. What's the most you can earn?

Well, actually I don't know the answer to that question, but I have heard in the more shady areas of the industry of BMW motor cars being given as bribes to get a track used on TV.

If your track gets placed on a long-running soap or news broadcast, then it could be as good as a pension for you.

But let's look at single uses, or at least single royalty statements. What's the most you could expect for one track during one royalty period (which varies from a month to a year, according to who is paying)?

The answer to that is thousands. The most I have ever received for a single track in a single accounting period was just over $14,000. That was one of my own tracks placed with a publisher. So in total the payment was $28,000.

I get royalty payments in the four-figure zone quite regularly. But that's not what I count as my bread and butter.

No, rather than occasional payments of thousands, I much prefer to receive lots of small payments from lots of sources. Anything from $20 to $100 or so.

There is security in numbers and where the big payments could suddenly dry up, if you have hundreds of small payments coming in then you're never going to go hungry.

Oh by the way, I've received money for my music from the woman in the picture. Not much though - that's probably why she's so rich.

OK - over to you...

We know that successful songs can make far more than this, so let's rule them out and stick strictly to music for TV.

How much do YOU get paid? Every Audio Masterclass visitor wants to know!

By David Mellor Thursday November 30, 2006