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4 possible sources of income for composers

A composer's career can be a great adventure beyond the notes on the score. Like any other job, there is a great expectation regarding how to monetize the work: income generation! It is necessary to have a financial return so that the musician can dedicate a large part of his time and dedication to this art. After all, if it is not profitable enough, the chance of becoming just a hobby becomes real.

There are four possible primary sources of income for a music composer, plus some other sources related to the composer's skills (which I will likely discuss in a future article).

Do you know what they are?

1 - Copyright | Royalties

Royalty payments include copyrights on your composition recorded by an artist (and played on the radio, streaming platform, etc.), including as a soundtrack to a film or television show or if played in a concert. You are supposed to get paid every time someone uses one of your compositions commercially. There are institutions dedicated to inspecting, collecting and distributing payments related to this, such as ASCAP and BMI.

2 - Commissions

Orchestras, groups, and artists can commission one or more pieces from you. They can come up with an idea or just a briefing of the group's preference and style, leaving the creativity up to the composer.

For example, I have a section on my website dedicated to commissioning new works. Click here to visit.

3 - Sale (or rent) of sheet music

If a musician or ensemble knows your work and likes your composition, they can buy or rent the score to play your music in a concert or event. In this case, the composer receives both the sale of the score and royalties.

For example, I have a section on my website dedicated to my catalog of compositions with scores for sale. Click here to visit.

4 - Original projects

Using your compositions as part of your musical productions is both a direct and an indirect form of remuneration. At the same time that you have the potential to earn money as a producer/performer of the project itself, you also avoid spending on third-party copyrights. Additionally, by doing this, you can expand the reach of your work, generating possible new projects and sales.

The beginning of a composer's career tends to be challenging, especially financially. The starting composer will have a small catalog of works and will only sell a few scores. Therefore, they should aim to create and grow their portfolio, and be ready for the medium and long run.

The young composer needs to understand and be aware of all the real possibilities in the market, and also how to create a name for themselves: how to market their work. Only then they will be able to act in a way that leads to a sustainable career. Additionally, most beginner composers will use their skills in other related jobs to their career moving (a subject for another article). Ultimately, the composer's income will be the sum of all these possibilities. Be ready to plan, work hard and be resilient!


Did you like this article?

Ask me questions and post suggestions for future blogs in the comment section below!

Be sure to visit my Instagram, Facebook and YouTube channel for full videos!

Also, check out my online courses: “Creative Processes” and “Fundamentals of Audio and Video Production for Musicians”.


Rafael Piccolotto de Lima - Compositor, arranjador, diretor musical, produtor musical e educador
About the author

Rafael Piccolotto de Lima has been nominated for a Latin Grammy as the best classical composer. He holds a doctorate in jazz composition from the University of Miami and has multiple awards as an arranger, musical director, producer, and educator.

His works have been premiered and/or recorded by jazz legends such as Terence Blanchard, Chick Corea, and Brad Mehldau, renowned Brazilian artists such as Ivan Lins, Romero Lubambo, and Proveta, and orchestras such as the Brazilian Jazz Symphony, the Americas Symphony Orchestra, and the Metropole Orkest (Netherlands).

Rafael Piccolotto de Lima (social media):
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