Hi all, I am seeking bidding advice.

I've been asked by a producer friend to submit a bid to score an upcoming 70 minute documentary. 

I have no idea how many minutes of finished music will be required, but I'm guessing maybe 40-50 minutes of finished cues. 

I don't know their total budget, but I do know the quality of the footage and edit is excellent. It seems very well produced, and he said they "have some money" and to charge what I'm worth.

Unfortunately I've never been able to gauge a range for this sort of thing, so I fear I often creep in on the low end out of fear of losing the project. The producer mentioned there was another music company they were considering.

My gut is telling be 25-30K would be a fair number. 

Also, my audio post company will likely be mixing the doc, so I was considering offering a package deal for both music and mix to entice them a bit more,

I would love to hear your advice on how you approach this sort of scenario on a day to day basis.

I trust you guys a lot more than google results. 

thanks so much,


You need to be a member of Composers' Forum to add comments!

Join Composers' Forum

Email me when people reply –


  • John since no one else is posting here I'll stick my nose in here although I'm an armature composer with no experience pricing out documentary scores.

    I would think from your client list on your company website that you would have a pretty good gauge on what to charge for this work.  It has to depend on the budget that your producer friend has for his project and that can vary widely.  Do they have a lot of location shots, a long complicated shooting schedule, expensive on or off screen talent involved?  The internet tells me that a good YouTube video can be done for $1000 a minute but Ken Burns' last epic was about $30,000 a minute so that's quite a range.

    So your friends budget has to fall somewhere in between $70,000 and $350,000 according to my totally uneducated guess which means if you charge him $30,000 you are getting a minimum of 10% of the budget which seems high for underscore considering that the producer could license some decent library music for quite a bit less.

    So please educate me on what I am missing here, like I say I have no experience with this!

  • Thanks Ingo, I think your comments make a lot of sense and provide great insight. 

    Most of the work I do is shorter length music for :30 spots and the budgets are all over the map. Generally they fall into 2 catagories.

    A) we have no money but we could pay you 5K if your interested

    B) we have 15-25K for 30 seconds of music. 

    So, based on those figures, I 'm puzzled why someone with a track record would want to compose 50 minutes of music for the same amount as :30 seconds. 

    for me personally, I'd estimate 3 weeks of scoring time (or more). at 1000 per day, thats 15K

    which also equates to 300 per minute of finished music (assuming 50 minutes)

    speaking with some composer friends, I'm hearing lower numbers than this. so I'm starting to think it's all about deciding what your time is worth, and how badly do they "need" you for the project vs stock music and cheaper vendors.  

    it's a puzzle for sure. 



  • Thank you John for discussing this.

    I guess time length is irrelevant; a 3 minute pop song makes millions while 3 hr operas go broke right?

    Having this credit in your CV is important so that's worth something, you could consider this as an investment in the future and you can always raise your prices later.

    There's a lot to be said for streamlining your production workflow. Underscore needs to be unobtrusive so craftsmanship can work against you here, with modern tools I think you could produce 50 minutes of generic music in a few days. Editing and rewriting would seem to be inevitable so why not go minimal with good quality audio libraries and soft synths to start and then add detail as needed?  Just my thoughts!

  • Thanks Ingo, 

    Good points for sure. And yes I agree 50 minutes could be created quickly, but I am not a "fast" composer. I tend to spend lots of time on the non simple sections and would be hiring musicians for top line parts when needed. 

    For what it's worth and for the benefit of others here who might encounter this situation in the future, I took a ball park stab and told them 25K is what i would want. I figured that amount makes it worth my time and is probably less than a top name composer would charge. 

    They immediately responded and said 25k was exactly what they were budgeting. so there you have it. should have asked for more. :) 



  • Great news John, congratulations! 

    Your instincts were much closer than my armature logic; of course it all depends on their budget like you say.  

    I hope you can share with us here as the project progresses and as you are able, hopefully we can at least view the final result.


  • Thanks. I haven't "won the gig" yet, but I think this is good info for others who understandably have no idea what to charge.

    Unfortunately in our line of work, we often don't have agents or reps to be the bad guy, and fear of losing work often drives prices down. Additionally, established composers tend to play their cards close.. understandable, but not doing others any favors. 

    Thanks for you insight.


This reply was deleted.