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At the time of writing, Jeff Bezos’ net worth is 183.8 billion dollars.

But what does that have to do with how much money composers make?

It all comes down to averages...

Let’s say Jeff Bezos visits one of his Amazon Fulfilment Centres.

And let’s imagine that the fulfilment centre has 400 employees.

If I were to ask you what the “average net worth” is of the people at that Fulfilment Centre, do you know what the answer would be?

Over 458 MILLION dollars.

(183.8 billion divided by 401 people).

But that’s not a fair representation, is it?

And that’s the problem when it comes to working out how much music composers make.

The stats are skewed by those making a fortune, and those making nothing.

But, you’re here because you want to know what you should be earning, or you’re wondering if a career in film scoring is viable, right?

So let’s take a look at the numbers.

In this article, you’ll learn how much money composers make on average, and also what you might expect to earn per project.

You’ll come away with some ballpark figures that you can use to help you set your film scoring rate.

Composer Salary

As the film music industry consists almost entirely of freelancers, there’s no such thing as a “film composer salary structure”.

We have to go by averages from information collected in surveys, supplied by those freelancers.

To give a quick ballpark figure, I’ve seen salaries ranging from $20k up to $115k, with the “average composer salary” usually around $50k.

Here’s what some of the major salary aggregate sites say:

Source

Low Salary

Average

High Salary

$20,000

$40,500

$115,000

$42,000

$49,300

$59,000

£21,000 (c.$28,000)

£30,000 (c.$40,000)

£38,000 (c.$51,000)

$23,100

$51,670

$125,200

$40,000

$54,000

$60,000

$23,100

$51,670

$115,575

$21,640

$59,790

$112,820

N/A

CA$109,297 (c.$84,000)

N/A

£23,000 (c.$31,000)

N/A

£40,000 (c.$53,000)

If we take this data on face value and work out the averages of all the sites combined, we end up with average salaries of:

Low-Average

Mid-Average

High-Average

$27,806

$51,155

$85,899

(Mean average with highest and lowest outliers removed).

How Much Do Composers Make On Average?

As you can see, the data suggests that on average a professional composer makes somewhere in the region of $51,155 per year.

But bear in mind that it’s not an evenly distributed curve.

There are likely many composers that are reporting very low “composing” salaries while also working in other jobs.

Those composers pull the average down.

But likewise, many of the composers making a full-time income from composition are earning much more annually than the data suggests.

So take the averages with a pinch of salt!

For you to get an idea of what you a composer might earn per month, or per project, let’s take a look at some suggested fees.

These are broken down by project type, to give you some ballpark figures.

TV Episode/Series

Source

Composer Fee (per 30 minute episode)

£1,000 - £10,000

(c.$1,350 - $13,500)

$1,500 - $7,500

$1,500 - $7,500

$5,000 - $7,500

TV Feature Film

Source

Composer Fee

£10,000 - £30,000

(c.$13,500 - $40,000)

€15,000 - €20,000

(c.$18,000 - $24,000)

$2,000 - $55,000

ASCAP

NB: Range Covers All Movie Budgets

$20,000 - $1,000,000+

$20,000 - $45,000

Low Budget Independent / Student Film

Source

Composer Fee

$4,350

$2,500 - $10,000

$0 - $10,000

ASCAP

NB: Range Covers All Movie Budgets

$20,000 - $1,000,000+

Low Budget Studio Film

Source

Composer Fee

$60,000 - $250,000

$2,500 - $500,000

Medium Budget Film

Source

Composer Fee

$250,000 - $350,000

$35,000 - $2,000,000

(including high budget movies)

High Budget Film

Source

Composer Fee

$400,000 - $2,000,000

$100,000 - $2,000,000

$35,000 - $2,000,000

(including medium budget movies)

Video Game Music

Source

Composer Fee (per 30 minutes of music)

$30,000 - $75,000

$30,000 - $75,000

or $300 - $600 per minute of music

Jingles & TV Themes

Project

Composer Fee

Source

Jingles

$100 - $8,000

TV Theme

$10,000 - $30,000

You’ll notice the massive ranges in each project type. That’s the difficulty of looking for averages or standards in a field consisting of freelancers.

Particularly in a creative field, where a person’s value can depend on many subjective factors.

You'll also need to factor in whether the budget is for a "package deal" or a separate "composer fee" - something I'll cover in an upcoming article (subscribe to be notified when it's released).

Now you have some benchmarks to work towards!

How Much Do Music Composers Make An Hour?

Another question that’s often asked about how much composers make is “how much do composers make hourly?”

If we take those annual salaries from before and break them into an hourly rate, we end up with average hourly salaries of:

Low-Average

Mid-Average

High-Average

$15.73p/h

$28.93p/h

$48.59p/h

(Mean averages divided by annual average work hours in the US (1768 hours)).

But in reality, this information is really misleading.

Work as a music composer isn’t consistent. We don’t work regularly and consistently all year round. Instead, we might work intensely on one project for six weeks, followed by a few weeks (or even months) with nothing at all.

So those “annual salaries” that you see might have been earned in a matter of months, not over an entire year.

And that changes things dramatically.

Plus, composers tend to charge either per minute of music or per project.

So the faster you’re able to compose & produce music, the higher your “hourly rate” will be.

Put it this way...

Two composers each charge $500 per minute of music, and they’re each commissioned for 10 minutes of music.

They’re both making $5,000.

But...

If “Composer A” can create 10 minutes of music in 1 x 8 hour day, but “Composer B” takes 5 x 8 hour days, their “hourly rates” are:

Composer A

Composer B

$625 per hour

$125 per hour

Bit of a difference, right?!

If you’re trying to work out a sensible hourly rate for yourself, you need to be super aware of your composition process, how long it takes you to do things, and how you compare to other industry professionals.

How Much Do Video Game Music Composers Make?

Although I primarily write about film music on this site, I couldn’t possibly ignore the video game music industry!

There are some slight differences to be aware of when comparing a film composer salary to a video game composer salary.

Most notably: royalties.

(I’ll explain royalties properly in another article - be sure to subscribe to be notified when it’s released).

Video games don’t typically generate any backend royalties for composers, which means the upfront fee is often higher.

While this might not affect the average annual game music composer salary, it does change how that money comes to you.

“Per minute” rates are much more common in game music. In my research, I’ve seen typical video game rates of around:

Low-Budget

Average

High-End

$100 per minute

$300-600 per minute

$1500+ per minute

Bear in mind that games aren’t “linear” - so even if a game could be completed in 60 minutes, that doesn’t mean there will only be 60 minutes of music.

There could be alternative routes that players could take (with different music cues), and players might “hang around” in certain zones, requiring longer interactive music cues.

The Highest Earning Composers

How Much Does Hans Zimmer Make Per Movie?

An educated guess would be between $1 million and $2 million per movie.

But composer fees aren’t public information, so that is speculative.

Whatever he earns per movie, people now talk about Zimmer’s “net worth” ($200 million at the time of writing) - which is usually a sign that you’re doing okay!

How Much Does John Williams Make?

As with Hans Zimmer, John Williams will likely earn between $1 million and $2 million per movie.

Again, people talk about Williams’ “net worth” (an estimated $300 million) rather than annual or per project earnings.

Remember, these are without doubt the two most famous living film composers, so their earnings demonstrate only the top 0.0000001% of composer earnings! (I made up that statistic, but you get the idea!)

At this stage of John Williams’ and Hans Zimmer’s careers, they’re not likely to be focused on how they can increase their earnings.

They’re more interested in working on projects that they’re genuinely passionate about.

...I doubt that would mean they’ll work on your next passion project for free though!

What To Charge As A Composer

The whole purpose of this article was to help you understand how much money composers make.

Why?

So that you can make better and more informed decisions when it comes to setting your rates!

If you want to learn what to charge as a composer, I've explained it all in this video:


So...What Is The Average Film Composer Salary?

In this article, I’ve outlined, as objectively as possible, the average earnings from film scoring.

Remember the huge number of variables that can dramatically change the earning potential of a film or video game composer.

And also bear in mind that these are all ballpark figures. Some composers get paid a lot more, others a lot less.

But now you at least have some numbers to shoot for!

If this article has helped you understand how much you could make as a composer, then subscribe to the (free) soundtrack.academy newsletter for more film scoring advice.

And now it’s over to you: have those numbers inspired you? Have you been undercharging for your work?

Let me know in the comments!

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